A while ago fellow writer Tanya Lee Stone emailed me and asked my thoughts about Barbie (the doll). She was writing a book about Barbie and was asking some writers for their ideas on the topic. Her timing was perfect. A few weeks before this I happened to be wearing a really cute t-shirt with a vintage silkscreen of Barbie on it. And some guy saw me wearing it and kinda made a face and said, “Barbie?” Like I was an affront to all modern-thinking people everywhere, who, of course, saw Barbie as an outdated female role model. I just looked back at him and said, “Yes, Barbie.” And here’s why. My Barbie flew her own plane. She owned her own three story town house (with an elevator!!), her own beauty salon (with working hair dryer), and captained her own yacht. She had her friends over to swim in her pool and they hung out all day – no guys, just the girls. And she did all this without having to marry a guy to pay for it. I have no problem with that (but I still sort of find it weird that the woman never wore underwear).
Here are some questions I asked Tanya about her new book, The Good, The Bad and the Barbie.
Whenever there is something as controversial as Barbie, I want to know the back story. As a feminist, I’ve long heard the complaints that Barbie was put on this earth to make girls feel bad about themselves. But of course that wasn’t any kind of intended goal. I wanted to find out the whys and whats: Who invented her, why, what was the context? As it turned out, there were a lot of reasons why Ruth Handler made Barbie look the way she did. And the Ruth Handler story itself was something I wanted to know more about–there was on self-made woman! She co-founded the toy giant Mattel with her husband out of sheer talent and determination.
2. What was your favorite outfit to dress Barbie in growing up? (side note: I totally remember my favorite dress to put Barbie in, it was pink and black halter dress and not terribly practical)
True Confessions: I never played with Barbie (unless you count hiding my sister’s Barbie dolls so she couldn’t play with them).
3. What was your favorite Barbie accessory? (side note: I loved my Barbie pool, which I could fill up with real water and let her float around in on her raft, my Barbie airplane, my Barbie townhouse and my Barbie hair salon)
As I said, I was not a Barbie girl. However, I was fascinated by the Barbie closet my cousin had, with its doors and compartment, and oh, all those cool little hangars. I used them as earrings!
4. Why has Barbie stood the test of time?
Amidst all the technological wonders we have now, Barbie is still a satisfying thing to play with–you can make her do anything your imagination can dream up! I think that’s the real reason she persists.
5. You asked a bunch of authors to send you their Barbie memories – who is included in the book?
Meg Cabot, Amy Goldman Koss, Sarah Strohmeyer, Allie Costa, Laura Ruby, Sarah Aronson, Erin Dionne, and YOU! There are also quotes from Sarah Haskins, Susan Jane Gilman, Mary Rogers, M.G. Lord, Yona Zeldis McDonough, and Anna Quindlen.
A little more about the book:
When award-winning author Tanya Lee Stone started asking girls, boys, men, and women how they feel about Barbie, the first thing she discovered is how passionate people are about her. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie is part biography-both of the doll and of her inventor, Ruth Handler-and part exploration of the cultural phenomenon that is Barbie. Filled with personal anecdotes, memories, and opinions from people of all ages, and featuring original color and black and white photographs.
Barbie never made me feel bad about myself. Way worse things did. And I still like Barbie!