Happy birthday, Barbie…uh, and me, too!
Yes, Barbie and I are the same age, give or take two months. Both born in 1959, both tall, slim hipped and owning dream houses, it’s a wonder people don’t see the similarity when I’m walking down the street. Maybe it’s because Barbie doesn’t look 55. No jealousy here. I’m fine with admitting that my twin sister has aged better than me. But I do think much of this has to do with genetics. There’s something to be said for plastic. It’s much more durable than human skin.
Barbie and I grew up together, literally. I had Barbie dolls. I even had Midge (Barbie’s best friend), Francie (her hip cousin), Ken (her anatomically vague boyfriend) and Skipper (her little sister), too. Back then, I didn’t realize that Barbie would become a lightning rod for controversy. She was just a doll. And had regular doll adventures–all of them not being in the subservient or submissive role.
The invention of the co-founder of Mattel, Ruth Handler, Barbie was named her after her own daughter, Barbara. Barbie was introduced to the world at the American Toy Fair in New York City in 1959 and her job was a teenage fashion doll. Her full name was Barbie Millicent Roberts and she hailed from from Willows, Wisconsin.
As Barbie and I grew up, we grew apart. She would end up having 125 different careers and multiple reinventions, becoming multiple races. I, on the other hand, became a writer. And stayed white, middle class and fairly average. If she had been a real person, her measurements would be an impossible 36-18-38. I won’t bother to mention mine, because I just can’t compete with that.
Given our history together, I remain conflicted about Barbie because I am, of course, a feminist. But I am her friend, first. Which is why I in every novel I write, I include one character whose name is in homage of her. I name that character Millicent. Millicent in my two current novels is a strong, level-headed woman, who cares nothing for fashion or beaus, but lives a straightforward life with none of the nonessential trappings. In a sense, she’s Barbie’s alter ego.
Or is she?
Here’s Ruth Handler’s take on the doll she invented:
“Barbie has always represented that a woman has choices. Even in her early years, Barbie did not have to settle for only being Ken’s girlfriend or an inveterate shopper. She had the clothes, for example, to launch a career as a nurse, a stewardess, a nightclub singer. I believe the choices Barbie represents helped the doll catch on initially, not just with daughters-who would one day make up the first major wave of women in management and professionals–but also with mothers.”