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Who’s a Barbie Girl?

 The craze is here. Barbie is back!

Barbie’s hot new return may have brought a shortage of pink paint, but there’s also a rising sense of nostalgia and recognition of her evolution through the years.

On a recent family vacation my bonus daughter bought two Barbie t-shirts.  They’re cute, fun, colorful, and scream Barbie.  I know Barbie is all the rage right now, and I noticed how easily she purchased these shirts because they were, well – cute.


Why is Barbie The Movie and all things Barbie making such a powerful comeback?



When I was a girl, dining room chairs draped in towels were the rooms to my Barbie’s table mansion.  Lego was her furniture, and she and I spent hours making up stories about going to the library, having dates with Ken (a doll I never had), and taking care of her pet goats.  She planned dinner parties with friends, redecorated her home with furniture crafted from boxes and ribbons I found around the house, and we had FUN!

Barbie was my friend and for hours I would struggle to change her “perfect” body into awkwardly sewn clothes made by my mother because store-bought were simply too costly. I rolled tape and stuck them into her shoes so her pink pumps would stay on as she walked from the Lego table to the Lego desk where she would write miniature letters to her friends.  

Hours of my life were spent with Barbie, and together we had playdates with other Barbies where I ohhh-ed and ahhh-ed at the Barbie apartment, camper van, or jeep that my friends had.

A highlight was when Santa brought me my very own Barbie Motorhome.  She was a free woman ready to hit the road!  And having her motorhome gave me status among my friends (I was 4).  


Barbie brings back memories of a simpler time for many of us.  Hours of playing pretend, not as a mother to baby dolls, but inviting us to pretend we were adults doing adult things with our adult friends. A different kind of imagination.  Barbie was an independent woman.  


Since her debut in March of 1959 Barbie has brought both positive and negative reactions through the years. She’s been a hot topic between mothers, within the feminist movement, and in childcare settings.

The most significant controversy was around Barbie’s appearance.  With a tiny waist and enormous breasts, it is estimated that if she were a real woman her measurements would be 36-18-38. Her human shoe size would be 3, and she would have to walk on tip-toe - always. Many people claimed that Barbie provided girls with an unrealistic and harmful example that fostered negative body image.  People questioned the potential harm that could come from the subtle messaging that Barbie’s body gave impressionable young minds.

With her release in the 50’s, there were also critics who believed she was too liberal as a single teen-aged fashion model.  She had various jobs, lived independently, and had a never-ending supply of designer outfits, cars, and dream houses. Some thought she was encouraging materialism and consumerism. Others were uncomfortable with the way she challenged traditional 1950’s gender roles.  She never married Ken - he was her platonic boyfriend.

As a parent of boys, I was relieved I wouldn’t have to deal with Barbie things (although had they been interested in dolls, I may be writing from a different perspective). For a time, I was disgusted by all things Barbie and all she stood for. When my children were invited to girl birthday parties, I ensured that gifts were exploratory and invited creativity with the intention that I would not contribute to subtle body image messages, rather encourage them to grow their minds.


My mission with Perfectly Imperfect is to help other see the light in themselves.  This means embracing body positivity and supporting women to love the light within themselves over the desire to be light by way of the scale.  In a world that has changed so much Barbie’s introduction, her long-standing success and influence is fascinating.  


The Danish band, Aqua, played with the concept of Barbie in their 1997 hit song “Barbie Girl” where lyrics include “I’m a Barbie Girl, in the Barbie world, life in plastic, it’s fantastic.”  You can brush her hair, undress her everywhere. “Imagination, life is your creation.” However, she is also described as a bimbo. “I’m a blonde bimbo girl in a fantasy world”. Watch the official video here:

Interestingly Barbie started out as just that, a bimbo.  Barbara Millicent Roberts, Barbie, was introduced to the world by Ruth Handler, cofounder of Mattel.  Barbie’s physical appearance was modeled after German gag doll called Bild Lilli – a risqué gift for men based upon a German newspaper cartoon character. She was built to have a “bimbo body”.  

One must wonder if this was the influence of the times, with icons like Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Aubrey Hepburn.  Perhaps Ruth Handler realized that the world would embrace the image of Barbie as she aligned with such icons.  Perhaps Barbie was an opportunity to give women a slightly different message – that a woman could “have it all” on their own, without a man to provide her home, possessions, or influence her career options. Was Ruth a crusader for change in a less overt way? 

How is it that 64 years later Barbie remains an icon?  




Barbie now represents 35 skin tones, 97 hairstyles, and 9 body types. She has had over 200 jobs including some less commonly known ones such as chicken farmer, dentist, UNICEF ambassador, Airforce pilot, zoologist, Olympic athlete, and renewable energy engineer. She also has evolved to represent differently abled people as a doll in a wheelchair, Barbie with Down Syndrome, and a doll with a prosthetic leg.  Barbie has come a long way.

While there is great diversity in representation, I think most of us still think of the Caucasian 11” doll, with long flowing blonde locks, the unrealistic body, blue eyes, pink smile, makeup. When I reflect on Barbie, that’s the one I think of, and she’s usually naked and getting dressed for the gazillionth time. Will the soon to be released movie reinforce that nostalgia? 

The Barbie the Movie trailer, appears to poke fun at the “plastic world” where “this is the best day ever, and so was yesterday, and so is tomorrow and every day from now until forever.”  Barbie then goes to the Birkenstock real world where life is no longer fantastic and plastic. What lessons and adventures will she encounter?  Will you see the movie to find out?

Any way you look at it, Barbie is a powerhouse.  Yes, Mattel is the marketing powerhouse, but BARBIE is the complex icon that has provided hours of play to many children, hours of sewing to many mothers, and many conversations about her messages and impact.  She has evolved with the times and will likely continue to. For many of us Barbie will always have a special place in our hearts. Whether you’re a Barbie lover or loather, she’s here to stay.

Are you a Barbie girl?  What significance, if any, has Barbie had in your life?  Perhaps revisit some memories, or consider what messages you think she sends. 


Barbie is everywhere right now, so rather than running from it, let her be a beacon for your own reflection and spark conversation.