It’s Still Barbie’s World – The New York Times

It’s Still Barbie’s World – The New York Times

Barbie, launched to some skepticism from male executives in 1959, was an adult woman with a glamorous interchangeable wardrobe, offering more role play options. For parents spooked by Barbie’s maturity, Mattel developed more benign options, including a freckled best friend, Midge (1963) and little sister Skipper (1964). Ken, Barbie’s devoted boyfriend, appeared in 1961, with a head of strange velvet hair. And so, the franchise grew and grew.

Suspended in luminous, jewel-hued pods, we see how Barbie — a character, a brand, a mass manufactured object, a fantasy — has changed over the decades. “American Girl Barbie Doll” (1965) is tanned and has a thick, wig-like blonde bob. Her heavy lidded blue eyes peer coquettishly to the left. Two years later, “Twist ‘n Turn Barbie Doll” channels the Mod mood of the era with dangling earrings and a shiny drop-waist dress. Her long hair is less coarse in texture and she has thick protruding black eyelashes, as does her British friend “Twist ‘n Turn Stacey Doll” (1968), styled in a red velvet pantsuit as Barbie’s swinging London friend.

Hawaiian Barbie arrived in 1975, and from 1980, we also have Black, Hispanic and Asian Barbies, but it’s not until 2016 that she develops a fuller figure, as well as jointed limbs. In 2020, she also has a wheelchair, vitiligo, a hearing aid and prosthetic limbs.

Barbie also enjoys technical developments: Ensuing displays show her walking, talking and dancing. (“Wow! She’s real like me!” a girl says in a 1970 commercial for “Living Barbie.”) The names for some editions of the doll are charmingly bizarre: 1993 brought “Special Expressions Barbie Doll,” whose face is as immobile as that of her predecessors, and the best-selling “Earring Magic Ken,” whose powers remain enigmatic, but seem to have something to do with his pierced ear and oversized silver necklace. “Growing Up Skipper Doll” (1975) was developed to teach girls about puberty, but her abilities — when you raise her left arm she gets taller and grows breasts — are more uncanny than reassuring.

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