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Barbie Pt III

by Deb Moore-Henecke

Barbie once moreMarketing Barbie as an independent woman was very intentional on Mattel's part. Lord points out that one of the earliest Barbies, first sold in 1960, was "Busy Gal" Barbie, who wore a red linen suit and carried a sketch pad that said "Barbie Fashion Designer." Her creators, Handler and Charlotte Johnson (who designed early Barbie fashions) were working women and therefore, Barbie has always worked, from the very beginning. Kudos to Mattel for never backing down on that. Nothing sold in the Barbie line suggests that being a housewife is the only career option available for Barbie.

Mattel has also upheld Barbie's independence by never allowing her to become a mother. Handler felt that would compromise Barbie's image of free adult womanhood. This is not to be construed as an anti-motherhood message, as Barbie is allowed to exhibit her maternal instincts by baby-sitting and caring for her three younger siblings, Skipper (a preteen), Stacie (about 8 years old), and Kelly, (perhaps three or four years old). There are an infinite variety of baby dolls available to young girls for the role-playing of motherhood. Letting Barbie stay independent is a positive message and again, I congratulate Mattel for that decision.

Barbie also appears to be financially independent. She owns her own sports car, Corvette, Mustang, motorhome, quad (an ATV), speedboat, horses and houses. She seems to enjoy a high standard of living (and while that is admittedly a problem for those young women who cannot aspire to own these things) it's nice to provide a role model to our daughters with the message that a man not need provide expensive toys for us. We can, if we choose to, purchase them ourselves.

A look at Barbie's leisure activities offer another opportunity for girls to imagine themselves in many different scenarios. Let's face it, this doll has a far more exciting life than most of us. She skis, surfs, rollerblades, rides horseback, plays volleyball, scuba dives, dances, ice skates, goes mountain biking, does gymnastics and in general, stays active.

These activities all send the message that physical exertion is healthy and appropriate. I would like to see Mattel continue to expand these opportunities. Perhaps there's room for a Tae kwon do Barbie, or Softball Barbie (following Dot Richardson's example) or even Iditarod Barbie. Why not?

When Barbie is not working or being physically active, she goes to the movies, gives dinner parties, takes her pet to the vet, gets her hair done, does the banking, has cookouts, does the shopping, babysits and even makes her own clothes, with the new CD-ROM designer software.

A third point in Barbie's favor is that Ken plays a minor part in her life. Ken dolls come in several outfits, but really he's just there if Barbie happens to want go on a date. She does not stand around waiting for Ken to show up, (regardless of that recent car commercial). Barbie's life is about friends, female friends. Barbie can be found doing all of the things I mentioned earlier and I admit it, even shopping, with her female pals. It's a social world in which a young woman learns to think in terms of directing her own life without waiting for a man to lean on. Barbie's female friends are more important than waiting around for Ken and that's a good lesson for young women.

Asian Barbie Also, Barbie is multinational, not ethnocentric. She can be found wearing a wide variety of clothing from all over the world. At an FAO Schwartz store recently, I found Barbie in French, Ghanian, Indian (not Native American), Norwegian, Russian, Mexican and Japanese traditional dress. There's been considerable discussion about the way in which Mattel chooses the clothing the global Barbie's wear, with concern that it is often stereotypical. While there may be some truth to this, it is more significant that Barbie in native dress may arouse the interest of a young woman to take a global view of her world and that's certainly a good thing.

I know that this may be hard for my feminist sisters to swallow, but Barbie is here to stay. Perhaps the best thing for us to do would be to lobby Mattel to make Barbie more realistic in her measurements, fix those silly arched feet and continue to expand both the career choices for Barbie (Naturalist Barbie with khakis and binoculars, Telemarketer Barbie with headset and cubicle, Firefighter Barbie with yellow firegear and Dalmatian, Waitress Barbie with order pad and shirt from TGIFriday's), as well as her leisure activities. How about Parachute Barbie or Motorcycle Barbie or Bowling Barbie? The possibilities are endless and that's the point.

Deb Moore-Henecke is a graduate student at the University of Northern Iowa. "Rethinking Barbie" is copyright Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture Reprinted at with permission. recommends the following books from


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