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Rethinking Barbie
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I recognized that was the first thing right with Barbie. Barbie is an adult doll, not a baby doll. She may, in fact, be the first adult doll. And, what an opportunity for a young girl to exercise her imagination! A baby doll only offers a child the opportunity to mother it. And, even though today's baby dolls do everything from eating and drinking to excreting, even chewing when we'd rather they not, you cannot create a complex social history for a baby doll. Offering our daughters the opportunity to play at mothering is certainly an acceptable choice, but it's only one option.

Barbie, on the other hand, allows a young woman to dream about all the possibilities open to her. Barbie can be a doctor, an astronaut, a banker or lawyer, a flight attendant, a fashion designer, a nurse, a gymnast, a horse-woman, a whale trainer, a veterinarian, a personal trainer, an Arctic explorer, a teacher, a circus star, a nightclub singer and now, a member of the Star Trek crew.

As a longtime fan of all things Star Trek, I must admit I just purchased the Star Trek Ken and Barbie, brought out for the 30th anniversary of the original series. Because the show first aired in the 1960's, when miniskirts were in style, Barbie wears a very short-skirted red uniform and sports a close approximation of the Yeoman Rand hair style and color. However, the people at Mattel are not fools, and the back of the box points out that Barbie's red uniform means she is a member of the ship's engineering section and a Lieutenant. Alas, Ken wears a gold uniform and is a member of the Command division.

I'm itching to take Ken and Barbie out of the box and create a little cross-dressing exhibition, to see how Barbie looks in gold. But, as any Barbie collector will tell you, Barbies must be NRFB, or "never removed from box to" retain their value. Which leaves me no alternative other than to buy a set I can play with. Which is exactly what many Barbie collectors do.

There are few limits to the career choices you can role-play with Barbie. And this is key, I think. My seven year old niece tells me that Barbie is pretty, but that she really likes to play "camping out" and "going on vacation" with her Barbies. This is a accurate reflection of my brother's life. He and his family travel frequently, often camping out. So, my niece creates this world from her experience for her Barbie.

Marketing Barbie as an independent woman was very intentional on Mattel's part. Lord points out that one of the earliest Barbies, first sold in 1960, was "Busy Gal" Barbie, who wore a red linen suit and carried a sketch pad that said "Barbie Fashion Designer." Her creators, Handler and Charlotte Johnson (who designed early Barbie fashions) were working women and therefore, Barbie has always worked, from the very beginning. Kudos to Mattel for never backing down on that. Nothing sold in the Barbie line suggests that being a housewife is the only career option available for Barbie.

Mattel has also upheld Barbie's independence by never allowing her to become a mother. Handler felt that would compromise Barbie's image of free adult womanhood. This is not to be construed as an anti-motherhood message, as Barbie is allowed to exhibit her maternal instincts by baby-sitting and caring for her three younger siblings, Skipper (a preteen), Stacie (about 8 years old), and Kelly, (perhaps three or four years old). There are an infinite variety of baby dolls available to young girls for the role-playing of motherhood. Letting Barbie stay independent is a positive message and again, I congratulate Mattel for that decision.

Barbie also appears to be financially independent. She owns her own sports car, Corvette, Mustang, motorhome, quad (an ATV), speedboat, horses and houses. She seems to enjoy a high standard of living (and while that is admittedly a problem for those young women who cannot aspire to own these things) it's nice to provide a role model to our daughters with the message that a man not need provide expensive toys for us. We can, if we choose to, purchase them ourselves.

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