In March 1959, Ruth Handler had finalized her design and the incredible Barbie doll hit the shelves in stores nationwide. After years of waiting, I finally received my first Barbie in 1972 when I was six years old. I ripped open the package and gently held Barbie in my hands. While gazing at her lovingly, I pushed my cat glasses up on my nose, sniffed, and yanked my knee socks up with the other hand. As I studied Barbie from head to toe, I suddenly realized that Barbie, in all her glorious femininity, was just the inanimate object who could release me from the confining recesses of Nerdville.
With my guidance, Barbie suddenly took on a life of her own. She possessed my goal breasts and the gorgeous long blonde hair I had secretly wished for every time my mother used my father’s barber kit and a bowl to trim my short, brown hair. Barbie was every bit the woman I wasn’t, and I loved her for it. She possessed a wardrobe that was the envy of every girl. As I slipped on outfit after outfit designed from Paris runway fashions, I transported myself to a time and place where a woman could get by with wearing a short tennis skirt and six-inch stiletto heels to the grocery store or simply throw caution to the wind and head off for a weekend at the Malibu beach house with nothing on but a great smile and a fabulous swimming suit.
Oh, and Barbie had the social life I’d always dreamed of. She had her own apartment within my bedroom and her phone ran off the hook. She entertained and dated frequently. Well-coiffed and tanned Ken came into the scene in 1973 and the ruggedly handsome, somewhat aloof G.I. Joe entered shortly thereafter. When Ken was busy, Barbie dated G.I. Joe. When G.I. Joe was out on military missions, Ken monopolized Barbie’s time—always telling her how beautiful and smart she was while caressing her gorgeous hair.
But men weren’t the main attraction in Barbie’s life. She enjoyed a diverse career path that included roles as a dentist, doctor, veterinarian, Ambassador for World Peace, Presidential candidate, astronaut, NASCAR pilot, and cowgirl. I don’t know how she jugged everything in her life, but through her broad influence, Barbie was the first woman to show little girls the beauty of multi-tasking. After all, she could do the splits while brushing her hair and that was some trick in my eyes—the girl who, while once attempting to do the splits, managed to rip my favorite pair of suede hot pants right in two. It took days for me to walk again, but my Dad was thrilled to use the hot pants chards as his new chamois while washing his car.
Eventually, I grew up and Barbie went into a box with all of her clothes, bicycles, cars, and shoes where she would one day help another girl to live her future dreams vicariously through her plastic body and flashy wardrobe. Barbie was a great influence in my life as a young girl. In my eyes, she was a true spirited woman with the kind of lifestyle that embraced fun, adventure, dreams, and diversity.
By the way … Ken, if you’re reading this, meet me at the beach house this weekend and bring your surfboard.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Barbie!