How many women as they age past 50 still have flawless skin with a toned body that is unchanged since teenage years? Many try to slow the onset of age with exercise, nutrition, hair coloring, and fashionable clothes, but nevertheless, the effects of the passing years become more and more evident. It's simply a part of nature. However, one "woman" has had a birthday this month and fits the description of the fountain of youth. She is so well-known that we all know her by just her first name. Of course, this is none other than "Barbie," born in March 1959. Love her or hate her, she is known throughout the world with millions of Barbie dolls sold since her birth 53 years ago.
From a standpoint of profit, who wouldn't wish that he or she had thought of the new toy idea, new to the American market? Who chose her name and that of her boyfriend Ken? It's really an "American dream" story of taking an idea and running with it. Up until that time, the only dolls for play were baby dolls. A certain mother however, noticed that her daughter did not like the baby dolls like a "Betsy Wetsy," but enjoyed playing with her paper dolls that were adults. This mom and her husband were Ruth and Elliot Handler who several years earlier had co-founded a toy company with a friend which they named "Mattel." Inspired by the play preferences of her daughter and a similar doll in Germany, Ruth obtained a patent and had the doll manufactured in Japan. Barbie debuted in the New York City Toy Show (her birthday), but was met with much skepticism, as she broke the typical mold of the time. Sales proved otherwise, and the rest is history. Why was she named Barbie and not Cindy or Kathleen? Ruth's daughter was named Barbara and her son was Ken, the male doll that was introduced two years later.
As beautiful as Barbie is, people found reasons to criticize her then and in later years. Her adult "mature body" with a shapely figure and some clothes were considered somewhat scandalous back in the day. Later, many questioned her proportions of such a small waist in combination with her other womanly figure configurations and suggested it encouraged an unattainable and unhealthy body image that girls might try to emulate. Math wizards compared her doll play-scale measurements and calculated that if a real person, her measurements would be about 36-18-33 with almost no body fat that could be considered anorexic at a height of about 5'9'' tall. People who have some of the original accessories might note that Barbie's bathroom scale was set to a weight of about 110 pounds. Later versions did redesign Barbie with a wider waist. In later years, other dolls were introduced as Barbie's friends and family and of color. In the beginning, Barbie's occupation was that of a teenage fashion model with a multitude of fashionable outfits, but in later years she has had many other "careers" to adapt to changing images of women in our society. Not that long ago, there was also a Barbie that talked with some stereotypical comments such as a love of shopping and that math was tough.
Barbie’s birthday is in the month of March, with the first in 1959. Shown is a 1962 doll from Ludlum’s Variety Store in Dunkirk.
Looking at sales over the years, it is evident that plenty of people like Barbie. How many adult women today have fond memories of playing with her as well as their children? Personally, childhood memories include many hours of setting up whole scenes with Barbie's fold-down bedroom case, her kitchen, and other living spaces with a multitude of accessories way beyond her outfits. It was fun to collect the blond, brunette and red-haired versions of Barbie and change the outfits. Grandma even sewed custom beautiful outfits for her. Admittedly, some outfits were hard to pull on and off, and at times the heads of the dolls were just exchanged. Similar collecting and play continued with the next generation of daughters. All are now tucked in the attic waiting to come out again when there are any young girls who have an interest in playing with them.
Love or hate Barbie dolls, another birthday has come and gone. She is still here and looking quite well for her age in comparison to the rest of us of similar years. One thing she does represent is creative play. Like many other toys of by-gone years, playing with her involves imagination and interaction beyond working the hand-controls of the virtual-reality, electronic toys of today. With all their technology and pizzazz, not much self-generated and imaginative scenarios and conversations take place, as well as youngsters not being able to attend to a task for any length of time if it does not have entertaining images bouncing around. Certainly teachers could attest to this.
Consider reminiscing about your old toys for a fun walk down memory lane. As time passes, they even become antiques. When Barbie debuted, she was sold for $3. One of our Barbie dolls, not quite as old as 1959, but from 1962, is wearing her original tennis outfit in her original box, with a Ludlum's Variety Store price tag of $2.98. Old-timers of Dunkirk can certainly remember that store and all its fun toys.
Make it a good week, Mary and Rosamond
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