Barbie Turns 50, Gets Chinese Facelift, Tattoos

Illustration for article titled Barbie Turns 50, Gets Chinese Facelift, Tattoos

There are a smattering of news items about Barbie today, since — as we've mentioned several times — this month marks the doll's 50th birthday. Her "midlife crisis" means she's had some interesting developments:

First, there's that multimillion-dollar store in Shanghai. Because what do the Chinese need more than a capitalist shrine to a blonde, blue-eyed plastic lady? And what does this mean: "The toy maker has given the Chinese doll bigger eyes, a rounder face and a softer complexion than the U.S. version"? According to the piece in the LA Times, the store is a gamble:

Whether China can give Barbie new life remains to be seen. Mattel's recently opened store in Buenos Aires has been drawing crowds. But there are plenty of doubters who point out that you need only go into a Chinese home. You won't find many girls playing with dolls, let alone dolls with blond hair and blue eyes.

But, as a slide show from Time magazine illustrates, Barbie has always spread herself thin, trying to be all things to all people. In 50 years, Barbie has had more than 100 professions, including fashion designer (1960) , flight attendant (1961), astronaut (1965), soldier (1992), and presidential candidate (2004). Lately, she's become a tattoo enthusiast.

But one thing Barbie has never been is realistically proportioned. The BBC wonders what Barbie would look like if scaled up to human proportions. The results are frightening:


A five foot six woman would have a 20-inch waist, 27 inch bust and 29 inch hips; or, if the woman kept her 28 inch waist, she would need to be seven-foot-six to have Barbie's proportions. Notes the Daily Mail:

Researchers at Finland's University Central Hospital in Helsinki say if Barbie were life size she would lack the 17 to 22% body fat required for a woman to menstruate. So again, not an unachievable figure, but certainly not a healthy one.

Of course, Barbie is just a toy. Not a real role model. (unless you're Sarah Burge, who got thousands of dollars in plastic surgery to look like the doll). Still: She is someone people continue to feel comfortable having around their children, and she remains more popular than the Bratz. Despite what we think about her, she's not even really intended for adults. In an interview with Forbes (no, really) Barbie says:

At the end of the day my best friends are little girls, so, truthfully, they help me keep it real. On any given day they take me on all sorts of imaginative adventures—from a princess to a president, movie star to mermaid, fashionista to fairy—so I really can't take myself that seriously.


At 50 Years Old, Barbie Gets Tattoos — And A Megastore In China [LA TImes]
Photos: Barbie Turns 50 [Time]
Tattoo Barbie Raises Concerns [UPI]
The Forbes Fictional Interview: Barbie [Forbes]
What Would A Real Life Barbie Look Like? [BBC]
Barbie At 50: In The Pink [Economist]
Related: Barbie at 50, Popular, Ponytailed and Primo [NY Times]
Barbie's Last Will And Testament [Forbes]
China: First All-Barbie Store Opens [NY Times]

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I'm going to be honest here- Barbie really is just a toy. I had about a dozen of her and her friends growing up, and never once did I feel inferior for not looking like them, and I don't think she contributed to any issues I might have with my appearance now. While the pregnancy Barbie was a little creepy (anyone else remember that?), all in all I think Mattel didn't do a half bad job of creating a doll who not only lives up to little girls' exacting standards regarding "pretty dolls", but of letting those same girls know that Barbie, and they, can be anything they want to be.

You're right, the toy is NOT for adults, and no little girl is going to think "MY GOD HER PROPORTIONS ARE UNHEALTHY, SHE PROBABLY CAN'T EVEN MENSTRUATE". We're too busy applying our own insecurities to the doll to realize that, well, children don't even consider that. It's so easy to make Barbie a figure head for all the racism and sexism we see in the world- she's everything society wants us to be (or least that's how we perceive it). With her golden locks, baby blues, clear porcelain skin, and impossibly petite curves, we've turned her into a representation of everything that is holding us back. And that's not fair- not to our children, not to Mattel, and not to ourselves.

I'd say the best bet is, buy your daughter a Barbie. Let her have the Dream House and the outfits and all the little toys. Just make sure she knows her value and loves herself (lead by example, ladies), and she will never be intimidated by a little plastic toy.