March 9, 2009
Guest blogger Jeanne Maglaty, Smithsonian magazine’s copy editor, offers birthday wishes to the all-American doll.
Mattel—the incorporated womb that continues to bear bazillions of you per annum—claims that you, Barbie Millicent Roberts, were born 50 years ago today, on March 9, 1959.
(Actually, Mattel started selling Barbies in 1958, which means you turn 51 this year. So, if you want to shave a year off, no one will quibble. You still look fabulous.)
In 1959, Ruth Handler introduced you at the American International Toy Fair in New York City, the spitting image of your older German cousin, Lili. (But we don’t like to mention her too much. Mattel officially bought her out in the early 60s—perhaps to avoid a Bratz-like legal scandal?)
You debuted wearing what would become your signature style: a perky ponytail, gold hoop earrings and a zebra-striped bathing suit, looking quite the teenage fashion model cum Hollywood starlet. Over the intervening years, you’ve managed to hold more than 100 aspirational careers, engender the protest of feminists for promoting gender stereotypes and provide hours of recreation for millions of girls the world over. And let’s not forget to mention your uncanny ability to maintain your unrealistic weight and killer curves. Gravity, my dear, is friend to you and you alone.
In 1989, you graced the cover of Smithsonian magazine in a fantastic foldout spread featuring you in thirty stylish incarnations— and yes, only you could make a fashion statement out of a space suit. You may also like to know that you have a solid presence at the Smithsonian Institution, with over 200 artifacts to your credit.
Paula Johnson, curator in the American History Museum’s Division of Work and Industry, sends her birthday wishes through her fond recollections: “I grew up in a small town and I think I was given my first Barbie in 1960 when I was 6 years old. For several years after that, all I wanted was Barbie this and Barbie that—clothes, shoes, sunglasses, and other accessories. My friends and I played with the dolls, dressing them up, and imagining their glamorous lives.”
Let’s face it, even as adults, we continue to be fascinated by you. Designer Jonathan Adler recently decked out a West Coast mansion to look like your beyond-belief dream house. And when you and Ken finally called it quits in 2004, we were all reading about it in the papers in slack-jawed silence. (Although there were times when we had our doubts about the guy’s suitability.) More power to you for gunning it on your own—but what does a girl do with 43 years’ worth of wedding dresses?
Happy 50th birthday, Barbie. You’re the girl who has everything who made an indelible mark on American popular culture and we’re all waiting to see what you’ll do next. In the meantime, thanks for the memories.
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