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Bibliophile reviews The Barbie Chronicles: A living doll turns forty

Editor: Yona Zeldis McDonough
Year published: 1999
Pages: 240
Genre: social history

Like millions of other girls across the world, I had a Barbie when I was little. I think she was a Superstar. She came in a hot pink gown with spaghetti straps, had rigid bent arms with a scary hole through one hand for a huge ring that quickly got lost, and similar huge earrings, the removal of which left gaping holes that obliterated her earlobes. Before long, one arm was broken off at the elbow – I don’t remember how it happened, but I may well have been trying to unbend her unnaturally angled arm. After my brother broke the pin that attached her head to her torso by hitting her hard with his He-Man action figure, she was never the same, and one day she was gone. I never missed her. I certainly never felt I was expected to become a Barbie Superstar. I never even wanted to be blonde, let alone have DD breasts. As an adult I discovered that the pretty doll with the vacant stare and impossibly thick hair I had had as a child was a controversial figure.

This collection of essays covers some of that controversy, but it also has essays by Barbie’s fans and people who see her as an interesting social phenomenon rather than as a dangerous role model or positive image for girls. There is even some poetry. The essays will give everyone, both fans and enemies, something to think about.

Rating: A collection of essays about the doll everyone seems to have an opinion about. Not rated.


Maxine Clarke said…
I was not allowed a Barbie doll when I was a girl. Everyone in my class seemed to have one, or if not, the far less trendy Sindy (a UK rip-off).
I therefore vowed that if/when I had children of the Barbie-desiring persuasion, they could have them. And they did.
One thing I noticed, that Mattel sells a very basic Barbie very cheap (3.99 pounds in UK) -- which everyone buys for little girls for about their 4th birthday (if not the actual parent, one of the girl's friends). Then, of course, the child is programmed to want the "other" Barbies, ie the ones that cost a minimum of 15 pounds and have some themed outfit -- sleeping beauty, fashion model, axe murderer (oops), etc.

Another thing I notice, that when a girl actually obtains one of these monstrosities and takes its clothes off for the first time in whatever "game" they are playing, that's it. That Barbie never has its appeal --- the girl just wants the next marketed doll (fantasy wedding carriage Barbie, mother of twins Barbie etc).

Ages ago I went to a Barbie doll exhibition at the London Toy Museum with a little girl (before I had my own children). There were loads of 1950s Barbie dolls, but without exception they were "air hostess", "nurse" and various other "assistants" to glam male (Kens) doctors, pilots etc. At least these days they do have Barbie vets, astronauts, etc, although, darn it, the girls who buy them still prefer the Barbie Rapunzel or cheerleader. (Do they have a gay Barbie? Must do I suppose --- but is she featured in the book?)

Are you back reading again or is this Barbie review an ironic comment?

All the best
Bibliophile said…
Quote: "Another thing I notice, that when a girl actually obtains one of these monstrosities and takes its clothes off for the first time in whatever "game" they are playing, that's it. That Barbie never has its appeal --- the girl just wants the next marketed doll..." Unquote.

A couple of the essayists made the exact same comment, that the appeal was in the clothes or the hair, and once the doll had been dressed and its hair combed a couple of times, that was it. I never felt I could do much with a doll whose elbows were stuck at a 90 degree angle.

I came to the conclusion that the reader's block was due to genre overload - too many mysteries - so I grabbed a couple of non-fiction books. Since I'm interested in social history and crochet a lot of doll clothes (very popular presents, especially the wedding gowns), I figured it would be interesting to get to know a bit more about the dolls I've been making clothes for. (The book, BTW, is not Mattel approved...)

I'm now working on the next mystery author review.

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