Barbie turns 60 without aging a day

Barbie turns 60 without aging a day

March 10th, 2019 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Ruth Handler, left, created the Barbie doll in 1959. She and husband Elliot Handler were co-founders (with Harold Matson) of Mattel Inc. / Photo from Mattel Inc.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

You know the old joke about turning 60: Your broad mind and narrow waist have traded places.

Not so with Barbie.

Mattel's fashion doll turned 60 on March 9, and she is just as svelte as ever with a face still wrinkle-free. She hasn't aged a day since her debut in a perky ponytail and black-and-white striped swimsuit at the American International Toy Fair in New York in 1959.

The 60th anniversary Barbie dolls, released in January, come in Caucasian and African-American versions. Each sells for $60. / Photo from Mattel Inc.

The 60th anniversary Barbie dolls, released in January,...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Barbie Millicent Roberts (aka Barbie) has had more than 200 "occupations" over the six decades that the blonde bombshell has been building her brand empire. After her first job as a model in 1959, she moved up to fashion magazine editor (1960) and then became an astronaut (1965). With the introduction of bendable legs in the mid-1960s, she was ready to go for gold at the Olympics.

Surgeon, veterinarian, stewardess, teacher, rock star, UNICEF ambassador, Sea World animal trainer — Barbie's career path has only been limited by the imaginations of the children playing with her.

And inspiring girls to think beyond stereotypical female roles is why Ruth Handler created the doll.

Handler has been quoted in numerous interviews as saying she watched her own daughter limited by the toy choices (primarily baby dolls) of the 1950s.

"The only role she could imagine through that play was caregiver or mother," Handler recounted, whereas her son could play he was a cowboy, pilot or doctor. So Barbie was introduced as an independent young woman who could pursue any career — a novel concept for that time.

"They discovered when Barbie came out that girls quit playing with baby dolls," says Carolyn Cronan, vice president of the Chattanooga Doll Club. Cronan has been a Barbie collector for 45 years and has amassed a collection of 2,000 Barbies.

"Barbie sold for $2.98 (when she first came out.) Now an original Barbie in mint condition with the original box goes for $6,000 to $8,000," she says, adding "the vintage clothing is worth as much as some of the older dolls."

The 60th anniversary Barbie dolls, released in January, come in Caucasian and African-American versions. Each sells for $60. / Photo from Mattel Inc.

The 60th anniversary Barbie dolls, released in January,...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Barbie rivals Madonna in the number of times she has reinvented herself: blonde, brunette, redhead, slender, curvy, black, white, tall and petite. After the doll came under fire for her unrealistic, voluptuous body and the message that sent young girls, Mattel responded by unveiling three new body types in 2016 with a variety of skin tones, eye colors, hairdos and hair textures.

And Mattel isn't through with her yet.

In February, USA Today announced that Mattel will debut a doll this summer that uses a wheelchair and a doll with a removable prosthetic leg as part of the Barbie Fashionistas line. Mattel reports that a doll with a wheelchair accessory has been one of its most-requested items. The doll, wheelchair and compatible DreamHouse ramp are expected to sell for around $20.

In honor of Barbie's 60th birthday, an anniversary doll was released in January in Caucasian and African-American versions. Looking eerily similar to Gwen Stefani, the Caucasian doll has a high, platinum ponytail. Both dolls wear hoop earrings, a cascading white ballgown with silver twinkles, black heels and wrist tag that makes them ideal for collectors. It will sell for — what else? — $60.

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In a Facebook poll, area baby boomers who owned Barbies in 1959 and early '60s revealed it's the intergenerational connections that have made warm memories for them. Following is a sample of their Barbie memories:

» I still have mine and much of her original clothes and accessories. Now my granddaughter plays with her. It makes me smile to see her dress her in the clothes my mother made. Little did Mother know she was making tiny doll clothes for her namesake great-granddaughter's pleasure. — Gaye Sellers Slaten

» My sister and I each had Barbies. The strongest memory I have about playing with them was pretending they were camping (Mother's scarf taped to a basement pole for the tent) and creating a thunderstorm with flashing overhead lights for lightning and waving a piece of cardboard to make the wind! — Gail Dooley

» I remember the Christmas morning when I got my Barbie pool and pop-up camper. Spent the whole morning applying the stickers to the camper and car. The pool was huge! I honestly thought I could swim in it! I might have put my feet in it. — Harriet Markham

» I had the cars, the townhomes, the camper. I had tons of clothes, but my favorites were the ones my grandmother made. I still have my Barbie dolls and clothes packed away in the attic. — Stephanie Collins Massey

» I loved Barbie! My mom sewed for us, so we always had loads of fabric remnants in our house and I would sit forever creating evening gowns and outfits for her by wrapping and twisting scraps of material and trim to create fabulous fashions for her. We had this modern black shelving unit that my mom styled with books and glass bowls, and that's where my Barbie lived her glamorous life. I would turn the bowls over to become her restaurant table where she met Ken for dinner. — Maura McGeary Lambert

» Mother made Barbie clothes — a fabulous Vogue-worthy red wool coat with knitted shawl collar and cuffs. Amazing. We were Air Force and moved so often that I didn't get to keep most of my favorite things, but Barbie traveled with me. — Mary Fussell Dykes of Atlanta

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.


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