SHE sashayed onto the market in a clingy zebra print one-piece in 1959, the first doll with proper breasts and an hourglass figure. Barbie turns 60 this year and I’d like to know the name of her plastic surgeon!
But although she doesn’t look her age, she’s not the blonde/brunette 36-24-36 bombshell I recall from Christmas toy shop visits of childhood (Mum got me a Sindy doll – ‘British-made, better class and more demure’). Not many people know that the original Barbie was modelled on a German doll called Lilli who was a prostitute gag gift handed out at bachelor parties.
Nobody’s perfect and Mattel her American makers have been tweaking bits over the years to keep her relevant, morphing her from 60s dolly bird to 70s disco queen to 80s career woman. Astronaut Barbie and Presidential Candidate Barbie became the cheerleaders in the ‘glass-ceiling-busting’ Nineties while Noughties Barbies in a range of skin tones with curvier shapes championed racial and body image issues.
Today Barbie is the epitome of diversity with over 100 personas and counting. But sales of the doll have been on a downward spiral so, for her big Six-O, ‘to elevate the conversation around physical disabilities’, Mattell has put her in a wheelchair and given her a removable prosthetic leg. You couldn’t make it up, although clearly someone did. Coming soon is a same-sex Barbie wedding set so it looks like poor old Ken is toast.
But that’s not what caught my eye while googling this year’s Top Christmas Toys list for pressies to buy other people’s grandchildren (I’m Barbie’s age myself and so are my friends). It was the new Creatable World ‘gender-neutral’ dolls from the same Mattel family which are tipped to be one of the hottest items Santa Amazon will be delivering to family homes this Christmas. A doll for everyone – ‘designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in’, they come with prepubescent bodies, androgynous features and mix-and-match hair and clothes that can be styled as male, female or in-between.
The LGTBQ community seem to like it – America’s National Center for Transgender Equality has even retweeted tweaked lyrics to Aqua’s Barbie Girl song: ‘I’m a non-binary doll, In a binary world, You can brush my hair, Please use the pronoun “their”’.
Mattel admits, “Some parents may feel uncomfortable about a toy that creates a situation where gender will need to be discussed with their child.” And it certainly makes a lively topic for ye old traditional Christmas Family Bust-Up.
But I’m wondering what all the fuss is about. Apart from Sindy with her modest B-cup, all my dolls were gender neutral including – to my huge disappointment when I ripped off his combat trousers – my brother’s Action Man. And anyway they’re not that PC as they’re all made of plastic. Biodegradable Barbie has yet to be invented.
Pending that, I rather fancy Hasbro’s gender-swapped version of Monopoly, entitled Ms Monopoly, where women players earn more than men. Bring it on!