Barbie’s relevance has waned in recent years, in part because the shining, stick-thin doll doesn’t look like a real person. But while Mattel has tried to update Barbie to better reflect the diversity of the girls who play with her, the doll’s original designer doesn’t understand why Barbie’s figure is such a big deal.
In a great New York Times profile of Carol Spencer, Barbie’s fashion designer from 1963 to 1999, she talks about how the criticism against Barbie’s form isn’t warranted:
She points out the doll’s humble origins, with her proportions modeled after paper dolls cut from newspapers. She also defends Barbie as a healthy alternative to video games; an engine of imagination for girls and boys, who can project onto a Barbie doll whoever they may wish to become.
“It’s wholesome play,” she said, as she pulled from a case one of the many hundreds of dolls in her home.
What’s more interesting though is how different aspects of Spencer’s life inspired the clothes she made for Barbie. For example, after needing a biopsy on her breast she noticed how chic the doctor’s coats looked. Suddenly, Barbie was a doctor! Though Spencer once almost accidentally created a “Meth-Head Barbie.”
There were missteps too, like when she gave Dr. Barbie a case of pink pills without knowing that at that time pink pills were known to be methamphetamines. “Let me tell you, that caused quite a stir,” she said. (Her faux pas was caught before Meth-Head Barbie made its way to children’s dollhouses.)
How’s that for updating Barbie to better reflect the real world?