Monday, March 09, 2009

Happy 50th Birthday Barbie!

Today I was quoted in the Omaha World-Herald talking about my relationship with Barbie. I think the story turned out pretty darn cute. Thanks Josie!

Published Monday March 9, 2009
Barbie hasn't lost her luster

Yes, darlings. Barbie, the plastic bombshell blonde, turns 50 today.

And she's still a hottie. In a cougar kind of way, that is.

Barbie, an iconic and at times controversial female image - tall, buxom and long-haired - has captivated young imaginations and conjured up criticism since she was born. The 3-inch heels she wore didn't help.

Young girls worshipped her, adult women wanted to be her. Several Omaha women still can't get over her.

The Mattel doll did what few toys could do. She stood the test of time.

"She's so sleek and modern," said Omahan Danelle Schlegelmilch. "It's nice that she can keep up and stay relevant after all these years.

"When I'm 50, I hope I look that good," the 25-year-old added.

Change has been constant for Barbara Millicent Roberts, aka Barbie.

She's explored 108 careers, from Olympic athlete to aerobics instructor to rock star. She's lived in the Big Apple (New York City) and surfside Malibu. She's owned pink convertibles, limousines and Jeeps and has a pilot's license.

The plastic princess celebrated her coming of (middle) age recently with a star-studded fashion show during New York Fashion Week. Needless to say, it was a very pink production. Supermodel Heidi Klum attended.

Omahan Tracy Charging Crow has collected the holiday version of the fashion doll since the fourth grade.

The 24-year-old's mother keeps them wrapped in the original packaging and stored in a closet. Mom has gotten into a few squabbles at the toy store over the last doll while holiday shopping. If they've sold out, Mom wraps a picture of the Barbie in a frame and places it under the Christmas tree to signify that she'll get one when they're back in stock.

Charging Crow plans to save them for when she has a daughter.

"Right now, they're my trophy Barbies," she joked.

To her, Barbie meant more than just a pretty plastic face. The doll taught her how to be a young lady. The dental student loves fashion, collects shoes and shops a lot. She doesn't like to get dirty or take out the trash and says girly words, such as "eeww" and "gross."

"Barbie represents the change in time," said Charging Crow. "She was never the quote-unquote housewife woman. She took on so many different roles."

Mattel's original 1959 doll and the ones to follow were edgy, sexy dolls for their era. The first Barbie sported a black-and-white striped swimsuit, peep-toe heels and an uber-thin waistline. That doll cost $3.

At 50, Barbie is still a top-selling toy in the United States. But tween girls, ages 7 to 12, dig the halter-top-low-rise-jean-stiletto-heel-wearing Bratz dolls instead. Those dolls carry shopping bags and Starbucks cups and cart around small dogs in their purses like celebutante Paris Hilton.

Some moms say the Bratz are too sexy. But Barbie set that beauty standard, say many women's rights advocates.

"And it was an unattainable standard," said Lori Young, director of the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Women's Resource Center. "That's what is really damaging."

"Sure, you could be a doctor," she said, "but you've got to be hot while you're doing it."

Kids take in that message, said Sheri Shuler, an associate professor at Creighton University, who works in the department of communication studies teaching women and gender issues.

"Kids are pretty savvy and capable of understanding that Barbie's shape is unrealistic," she said. "Don't think kids passively absorb the negative things about body image."

She says Barbie has redeeming qualities, such as that ability to do whatever the guys do.

"Kids like to play with her because she's versatile," Shuler said.

Barbie plays war with G.I. Joe. She goes on safaris and scuba dives in soapy tubs.

"Before there was an astronaut Barbie," Shuler said, "I'm sure there were little girls throwing her off balconies with parachutes on."

Schlegelmilch was one of those girls who took the doll on escapades. She had a makeshift Barbie room, a space under the basement stairwell that doubled as a storm shelter. She created a Malibu Barbie surf shop and lined her 20 dolls up against the concrete block wall.

Schlegelmilch saved her allowance to buy clothes, shoes, earrings, necklaces and hair ties for her dolls.

"It might have been a precursor to my life," she joked. "I'm obsessed with accessories."

For her, Barbie has always been a positive role model.

"I thought it was a good thing for girls to have," she said. "My mom kept some of her classic Barbies from when she was younger. So it's something that we could both relate to."

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