Recently, I opened up my storage shed and pulled out 14 large containers that housed my Barbie collection. From childhood, and especially from the 80s and 90s, I had collected various versions of this doll. When I had a larger house they were on display. When the kids and I moved to the teeny house they were relegated to the storage shed, to hibernate for 18 years. Their collectible value decreased gradually over the years, as the “collectible” market crashed along with the stock market. And, in some part, Barbie, herself, fell out of favor. There was a lot of talk about the doll creating inappropriate body images in the heads of girls (and probably boys too) and Barbie became, to some, the epitome of a brainless bimbo concerned only about her unattainable appearance. But, I would protest, this was not the Barbie I knew. OK, yes, she still had that figure, and feet molded to forever wear high heels. But bimbo? True, that intense pink aisle in the toy store is really a bit much. And some of the outfits border on indecent.
Yet, for me, that wasn’t really Barbie. For me, Barbie was the fiercely independent woman that many of us growing up in the 60s and 70s aspired to be like. It was something Mattel finally realized with the “We Girls Can Do Anything” campaign. And, as I looked over my collection one last time before sending it to the auction house, I could see that Barbie. President Barbie. Astronaut Barbie (who wasn't available for the "we girls can do anything crowd" but did come along later). Veterinarian Barbie. Firefighter Barbie. Police Office Barbie. Barbie wrapped in historical garb from all sorts of eras – and admittedly, some of those outfits were more historically accurate than others. There was also an assortment of princess Barbies commemorating holidays and seasons — perhaps this was Barbie’s career of quintessential fashion model.
It has been said by other writers that Barbie reflects who is in charge of her at Mattel. When someone who has the Bimbo Barbie in mind, out comes that image. And perhaps that is the image that has been dominating Barbie in the intervening years that I wasn’t watching or collecting her.
So today, I was pleased to see a new commercial for Barbie. One that made me smile, and even laugh a bit. A commercial that uses humor to bring home a serious point about an enduring staple in the toy department, like her or not. It makes me wish I had saved President Barbie or Astronaut Barbie from going to the auction.