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Bringing up Barbie (©Mattel)

1959 Barbie

Ruth Handler

Lilli via Barbie

Parisienne Barbie

1959 Barbie

Barbie exhibition

Robe Noire Barbies

I had no idea that when I saw Barbie of 1959 in her little black and white striped bathing suit, her curly bangs and long pony tail, that tears would well-up taking me back to when I was seven years old. My daughter standing next to me watching me grab for a tissue just cracked up. “Oh, Mom! Are you seriously getting choked up?”

She had a collection of Barbies herself as a kid — 11 of which she sold off in a garage sale. Barbie was the love of my life and the beginning of my desire to become a great fashion designer. That’s when I started sewing and knitting clothing for her. By the age of ten, I was making my own clothing on my mother’s sewing machine and by 17 I was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology studying fashion design for real. Barbie was my inspiration.

Today Barbie is the inspiration for a major exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on until September 18th, packing in the crowds to see the 700 Barbies on display! Going on a Saturday afternoon was a big mistake as it was an absolute sea of every age, mostly girls and women — so plan to go when the kids are in school!

The official story about Barbie is fascinating, because she’s so much more than just a doll. Mattel had no idea the success the iconic adult doll would reap upon them, thanks to businesswoman Ruth Handler who was inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli along with her daughter, Barbara. In fact, Mattel was against the idea and some parents were opposed to Barbie having breasts. Against the odds, she debuted at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959 and the rest is history. When I turned seven years old in October of that year, she was my birthday gift.

Not everyone allowed their children to play with Barbies. Dr. Rebecca Hains, author, professor and speaker offers five reasons NOT to buy Barbie for little girls. Most of the criticisms concern Barbie as a bad role model because she promotes “an unrealistic idea of body image for a young woman, leading to a risk that girls who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic.” One friend recently told me that his wife would never let their daughter play with Barbie, but she became anorexic in spite of it. Seems Barbie isn’t the only bad influence out there.

Barbie comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and roles in today’s world. The exhibition has Barbie dressed for every sort of profession, those that are both traditionally for women as well as for men — about 150 different careers and 40 different nationalities having collaborated with more than 75 different fashion designers. She has a huge family, now, too — it’s not just lone little Barbie in all her perfection. Over a billion Barbies have been sold worldwide in more than 150 countries — Mattel says that three Barbies are sold every single second!

Let’s face it, Barbie is one popular chick! All those naysayers need to go get a life. The numbers speak for themselves. Barbie has made quite an impression on the world and why shouldn’t she? She’s pretty, personable, smart and dynamic. Women with these attributes excel in everything they do, whether we like it or not. The others are just jealous.

Want more of Barbie’s world? Check these out:

Don’t miss the exhibition here in Paris, and don’t forget to bring your tissues. You might get choked up, too.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - in 1959

Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

(in 1959)

Respond to Adrian

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