Monday, February 28, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us, by Tanya Lee Stone

Wonderful introduction and first few chapters - I loved hearing about Mattel founder Ruth Handler's story! Ruth Handler was amazingly ambitious, especially for her day (she was born in 1916). She married an artist who loved to design everything under the sun, it seems. They were the perfect team - she the all-around perfectionist: new and trendy ideas gal, marketer, salesperson, and practical follow through person (through manufacturing, etc.); he the artist and design guy who could conceptualize a product and make something appealing for it's target audience, whether that was furniture, jewelry, or toys. Ruth and Elliott Handler met as teenagers, and founded their business in their early days of marriage (circa 1939) by finding artistic and useful ways of incorporting the newly-invented product Plexiglass. They had two children, Barbara (1941) and Ken (1944). By building on the new American prosperity and creating demand for toys marketed to children, they had built Mattel into a very successful toy company by 1955, when Ruth took a $500,000 gamble on being the sole toy company advertising sponsor for the new Mickey Mouse Club t.v. show. A Barbie-like doll was long her dream, wanting to make a 3-D version of fashion paper dolls (infinitely more durable) played with by older girls and early teenagers. She made that dream her reality by debuting Barbie, Teenage Fashion Model, in 1959. The rest is history.

The book documents Barbie's many phases and changes, which was interesting to see. Many people of all ages were interviewed in making this book, and their opinion of the doll seems reflective of what they projected on it - feminist longings and independence were just as prevelant as views in the negative. I'm sure this is exactly why Barbie is such a hot topic of conversation no matter who you talk to, and what year it is!

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