Barbie at 50 03.11.09 Search

Nary a Wrinkle! How Does She Do It?

Sue Mullin

She's 50! Newest member of AARP looks so good!

Barbie AARP

She's reached the big 5-0, the half-century mark, with nary a wrinkle, sag, speck of cellulite or gray hair. Believe it or not, Barbie turned 50 years old on Monday.

She's survived harsh criticism for everything from her too-WASPy looks to her Shopping Spree Barbie materialism, and she's been blamed for poor self-images and eating disorders. In Iran, she's banned from entering the country, and reviled as the ''Satanic doll'' for her Western garb and lifestyle. Vanity Fair, in criticizing Marco Tosa's ode to the doll in his book Barbie called her ''freakishly proportioned'' and ''a role model to preteens and drag queens, and the Antichrist to feminists and PC parents.'' By the time she was a ripe, old 31, she made it into The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste by Jane and Michael Stern, who began their Barbie essay with a withering four-word statement:"Barbie is an airhead.''

Barbie has also had to deal with rambunctious young boys and some nonreverential men over a couple of generations. The Herald's TV critic Glenn Garvin confesses he giddily knocked down and rolled over his sisters' Barbies with a plastic toy Army tank. A shop on Castro Street in San Francisco in 1996 sold ''anti-Barbies,'' such as the best-selling Trailer Trash Barbie, Carrie Barbie, Exorcist Barbie, Big Dyke Barbie, Hooker Barbie and Drag Queen Barbie (which was actually a Ken doll dressed in a Barbie ensemble). Even artists got in on the act: Byron Moore's pen-and-ink drawing, Huh Huh Huh Cool! Yeah. Heh Heh, depicts Beavis and Butt-head, after having twisted off Barbie's and Ken's heads, gleefully switching them.

Yet, the 11 ½-inch looker is truly larger than life, still flashing her fixed, plastic smile, still the most popular doll among girls (the average American girl is said to own nine Barbies).

She has more than 55 relatives and friends, some of them celebs. She boasts more frou-frou designer wedding dresses in her closet than Elizabeth Taylor, plus outfits by Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta and Yves Saint Laurent. Last month, to mark Barbie's birthday, models strutted the runway in outfits by 50 designers, including Anna Sui, Baby Phat and Betsey Johnson at New York's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

The icon has played hoops for the WNBA, trolled South Beach as Florida Vacation Barbie, driven for NASCAR long before Danica Patrick, done good deeds aboard the Baywatch Barbie Rescue Boat, skated in the Olympics and even added wheelchair access to her Deluxe Furnished Dream House for handicapped pal Becky. No slacker or snob, she also donned a blue uniform, cap and sensible white shoes to work in the Barbie Loves McDonald's playset and practiced dozens of lofty professions from doctor to dentist to astronaut and FBI agent. Only one top job may have eluded her: numbers cruncher. But as Talking Barbie famously said, ``math class is tough.''

Here's a Barbieography through the five decades of her glam existence:


Barbie debuts at the American Toy Fair in New York City, giving dolls like Tiny Tears and Betsy Wetsy a real reason to cry. Almost overnight, Barbie becomes the biggest hit in all of doll history, which dates back centuries.

Ironically, Barbie is not that original. She is styled by Ruth Handler after the German Lilli dolls, which were modeled after a tarty young flirt created by cartoonist Reinhard Beuthin in the West German newspaper Bild.


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