Barbie was a popular submission. We are including two here, one from Adam Scher and one from Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez.
(From Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s by Kate Roberts and Adam Scher, published by the Minnesota Historical Society to accompany an exhibit by the same name. For more on the book and the exhibit, visit http://tinyurl.com/MinnToys)
Contributor: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
PhD Candidate in Curriculum and Instruction
Pennsylvania State University
Barbie is a cultural icon that has been present since 1959, and has been a popular toy among girls since then. She has become a great part of children’s culture – be it by the doll’s presence or absence in children’s lives. Whether children’s experiences with the doll were positive or negative, Barbie generally plays a role in childhood, especially in Western cultures (Rand, 1995; Driscoll, 2008).
According to Mattel® one Barbie doll is sold every three seconds somewhere in the world, and it is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, remaining the world’s most popular doll. Barbie doll has had approximately 150 careers and characterized more than 40 different nationalities. Although the doll itself can be considered the most prominent Barbie artifact in childhood culture, she has made her way into children’s lives in many other venues as well. Children can interact with Barbie through trading cards, video games, computer and online games, books, movies, music, and other Barbie toys. Such is her prominence in American childhood that she was featured as one of the iconic toys in Pixar’s Toy Story movies (Parts 2 & 3).
One reason Barbie is an important childhood artifact is the different conversations that emerge around her. A number of scholars have written about individuals’ childhood experiences with the doll and their negotiations with how Barbie contributed, and still does, to their own identities. (Rand, 1995; Rogers, 1998; McDonough, 1999; Reid-Walsh & Mitchell, 2000). Whether these experiences are remembered as positive or negative, the fact remains that Barbie was an integral part of their childhood as it continues to be for current girls. Barbie has played a very significant role in many children’s lives, including my own.
Barbie dolls were my favorite for a long time. I could dress them up, brush their hair, and they could be anything I wanted them to be. They adopted the various professions I wanted to be when I grew up, thus, I was vicariously living my dreams through them. Playing with my Barbie dolls was a time of private play, where I was able to express myself through my dolls. When I first started playing with Barbie dolls, I did not have a great number of accessories or “Barbie artifacts,” thus they were mostly DIY creations. My mom would make clothes for my Barbie dolls. As she has told me, this is how she used to play with her Barbie doll: designing and creating her clothes. I would also use household objects to serve as Barbie furniture or other objects.
This creativity with Barbie play has transferred into virtual spaces, where a number of girls have created YouTube channels devoted to showing episodes of their own Barbie play and how to create artifacts (Rockin’ Barbie, BarbieGirlfuntime, Barbie and Ricky). The different venues in which Barbie is present and her position as the leading doll among girls further attest to Barbie’s popularity and significance as an artifact of American childhood.
Driscoll, C. (2008). "Barbie Culture." In C. Mitchell & J. Reid-Walsh (Eds.). Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia. (Vol. 1) (pp. 39-47). London: Greenwood Press.
McDonough, Y.Z. (1999). The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty. New York, NY: Touchstone.
Rand, E. (1995). Barbie’s Queer Accessories. Duke University Press.
Reid-Walsh, J. & Mitchell, C. (2000). "Just a doll?: ‘Liberating’ accounts of Barbie-play." Review of Education/Pedagogy/Cultural Studies 22 (2), 175-190.
Rogers, M. (1998). Barbie Culture. London: SAGE Publications.
|Previous Artifact||List of 25 Childhood Artifacts||Next Artifact|