FOREVER BARBIE by M.G. Lord

FOREVER BARBIE

The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll

KIRKUS REVIEW

 With wide-ranging research and her bull's-eye wit, New York Newsday columnist Lord celebrates as she satirizes the myth and magic, the life and times of Mattel's immortal girl toy. Barbie was born in 1959, the product of a confluence of factors: postwar America's booming marketplace for boomer children, conflicting ideas about women, and the revolution in plastics. Lord's account covers two aspects of Barbie's nature: ``doll-as- physical-object'' and ``doll-as-invented-personality.'' The story of Barbie as physical object is a coming-of-age story involving the rise (thanks to entrepreneurial chutzpah) and fall (resulting from SEC violations) of Barbie's inventor, Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler. It touches on international trade (Barbie's first dress designer, Seventh Avenue denizen Charlotte Johnson, spent a year in Tokyo overseeing the creation of the doll's original 22 outfits), unprecented industry expansion as evidenced by Mattel's growth, and innovations in advertising, merchandising, and promotion, such as motivational researcher Ernest Dichter's early study of Barbie's appeal to girls and their mothers (Barbie ``could be a cute decoration for a man's bar,'' said one unenthusiastic mother). The story of Barbie as invented personality--the promotional brainstorm that created Barbie's persona as a living female--is a coming-of-a- new-age story. It involves the increasingly dissonant notions about woman's power and place, as well as growing racial and ethnic awareness. Barbie's voluptuous body, says Lord, along with her various incarnations, including fashion model and photographer, made her a ``brave, new, vaguely selfish and decidedly subversive heroine'' in the mold of Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl. Barbie never had a husband; she earned her own keep and always wore a smile (and a fabulous outfit). True, Mattel introduced a boyfriend for her in 1961, but Ken ``was a mere accessory,'' Lord cracks, ``a drip with seriously abridged genitalia who wasn't very important in her life.'' Lord's intelligence and good humor bring a new attitude to feminist visions of popular culture and the women who love it. (65 photos, 15 in color, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1994
ISBN: 0-688-12296-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994




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