Barbie and me

couple of newlyweds celebrating wedding day Photo by Tara Winstead on

Do you remember paper dolls? I do. A daughter of a friend of Mom’s loved paper dolls. Janet had way more patience than me, and she liked clothes. My “dolls” couldn’t keep their clothes on, and they hardly ever stayed standing on their cardboard stands. I’d rather play Lone Ranger and Cochiche outside, running around pretending to ride horse and hang bad guys.

When my daughters begged for Barbie Dolls, I said no way. Those dolls teach girls to think far too much about their physical appearance and they give them an unattainable model. It’s all about looking beautiful, getting a boyfriend, and buying lots of clothes and shoes and cars and houses and other stuff.

CeCe begged and pleaded. I still said no.

Of course, someone gave her a Barbie as a birthday gift and I couldn’t bear to tell her she had to return it. CeCe didn’t have the patience for those tiny clothes and shoes. She didn’t care about Ken or the dream house or the car. She would rather be outside, karate-kicking imaginary enemies, climbing up the fireman’s pole, jumping out of the treehouse, and learning to spit like a real baseball player.

Years later, I watched a documentary about the creator of Barbie. I got a whole new attitude.

Ruth Handler and her husband were co-founders of Mattel. Ruth thought girls should have something to model other than being a mother. And something better than paper dolls with clothes that were held on by little paper tabs. Ruth noticed something important.

When girls played with paper dolls, their pretend play was about the future and their own empowerment.

Ruth had a hard sell to her all-male executives. They argued that parents would not buy their children a doll with a voluptuous figure. It probably didn’t help that Ruth brought home a  West German Bild Lilli doll, which was not a children’s toy, but rather an adult gag gift. With a lot of persistence, Ruth finally got her Barbie doll on the market. Once Matel started marketing Barbie on The Mickey Mouse Club sales took off and really never faltered.

I should have been impressed with Ruth’s ground-breaking career. But, things like that unattainable figure, her focus on consumerism and

“Math is Hard,” “I love shopping,” and a diet book that said, “Don’t eat” did little to sway my opinion.

Then something happened. Matel created African American Barbie, Hispanic Barbie, and Barbies with different body types. And she grew apart from Ken, becoming more independent. By this time, CeCe was all grown up with a little girl of her own. Miss K gained a variety of Barbies that CeCe thought every little girl should have. Who was I to argue?

Barbie Loves the Ocean finally won me over.

The new Barbie line supports the toy company’s goal of having 100% recycled, recyclable, or bio-based plastic materials on all products and packaging by 2030. Barbie has a YouTube series so young fans can learn how to take care of Earth. And Mattel is launching a limited-edition line of 4ocean x Barbie bracelets, which are all made with post-consumer recycled materials and hand-made by artisans in Bali.   Who can argue with that?

For the Barbie curious, here’s a 12-minute video that recaps all the changes Barbie made. I must admit, at one point, I wanted to run outside and weed the flower beds, watch the frogs, or feed the fish. Anything other than watch another minute of Barbie fashion history. But, I stuck it out, and I have a new admiration for Barbie’s ability to change with the times.