Wednesday, August 15, 2007 08/15/07-Barbie

In today's excerpt--the Barbie doll:

"In 1959, wearing a zebra-striped swimsuit and tall stiletto heels, Barbie made her debut at the American Toy Fair in New York. Created by Ruth Handler, the youngest of ten children of Polish immigrants, Barbie became an instant icon of popular culture and one of the world's best-selling toys. Ruth Handler had founded Mattel in 1945 with her husband, Oscar, a specialist in plastic design. Inspired by her own daughter's fascination with paper dolls, the Handlers wanted to produce a doll that looked more like a real teenager. The doll Ruth Handler created was actually modeled on a German sex toy called Lilli, which Handler had seen on a European trip. Barbie was named after the Handler's daughter, and her later male counterpart, Ken, was named after their son.

"Needless to say, there aren't many teenagers who look like Barbie. In fact, it was later determined that if Barbie were 5 feet 6, her measurements would be 39-21-33. But that did not matter. After battling prudish male executives at Mattel, Handler launched the doll into history. At the time, the doll business was dominated by baby dolls from a far more innocent time. Barbie flew off the shelf in the postwar baby boom years. In a 1977 interview, Ruth Handler told the New York Times, 'Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dreams of the future. If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.

"Although feminists would later object that Barbie gave young girls an unrealistic body image and others would criticize Barbie as overtly sexual, that didn't stop Barbie from becoming a phenomenon. A half billion Barbies later--more than one billion counting sales of her sidekick dolls--and the statuesque young girl with platinum hair and blue eyes was still going strong by 2002."

Kenneth C. Davis, Don't Know Much About History, Perennial, Copyright 2003 by Kenneth C. Davis, pp. 434-435.


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