Barbie turns 50, looking better than many 20-year-olds

March 8th, 2009 - 12:19 pm ICT by IANS  

By Carla S. Reissman
New York, March 8 (DPA) Even after living for five decades as an international jet-setter, Barbie still looks like a well-toned teenager.

She’s easily able to pull it off. After all, her 29-centimetre body is made of plastic. As such Barbie has always been a luxury item that the masses can afford, making her the most successful doll in the world. On Monday, she will turn 50.

One reason for her success is that all girls from young to old dream of having any one of her professions - from flight attendant to presidential candidate. And they can only envy the sheer inexhaustible depth of her wardrobe, which ensures that she’s always able to make a flawless appearance at the beach or on the red carpet.

Barbie does have striking qualities, including long legs, an unrealistically slim waist and a generously sized bosom. These especially have upset her opponents. She has helped cement sexist cliches in every new generation introduced to her, much to the displeasure of feminists.

Sociologists complain that her excessive penchant for accessories introduces young girls to consumerism. And scientists criticise her exaggerated proportions, saying it produces a desire among very young women to have be unrealistically thin and can increase a girl’s disposition for developing anorexia.

None of this matters to Barbie’s fans. She has been a hit since Ruth and Elliot Handler, founders of Mattel, which makes the doll, introduced Barbie at a toy fair in New York in 1959. The idea came to Ruth Handler as she watched her daughter Barbara while she was playing. She favoured paper dolls she made herself — figures that were similar to grownups, not small children.

Handler recognized that the world needed a teenaged doll. There were historical precedents: Since the late 17th century, girls anticipated their adulthood while playing with these dolls and their blouses and their hats, furs, bonnets, petticoats and winter outerwear.

Soon after Barbie’s arrival came Barbie cars, Barbie horses, Barbie cosmetics, Barbie doll houses, and Barbie convertibles - just like in real life. Her appearance has changed somewhat over the decades and she now looks a bit friendlier.

For Barbie’s birthday, Mattel even released an Angela Merkel Barbie, which doesn’t look like the German chancellor, rather like Barbie herself.

At the beginning of the new century Barbie received an athletic body, a flexible waist and even a belly button. Her world, however, is kept away from being too realistic. Neither she nor any of the other dolls in the Barbie series, including her ex-boyfriend Ken, has any sex organs.

It must be noted, even on her birthday, that Barbie’s perfect facade has been difficult to maintain recently.

Financially, Barbie is going through a terrible midlife crisis. Her competition is younger. The Bratz dolls made by US competitor MGA and introduced into the market a few years ago are getting to Mattel.

Barbie’s big-eyed, brash rival is particularly successful with bigger girls. This competition and the recession combined to give Mattel its worst Christmas sales in years in 2008. Profit was down about 46 percent.

Barbie is taking it lightly, though. She’s still smiling and she’s still changing her clothes.

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