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My name is Benetton, Barbie Benetton

My name is Benetton, Barbie Benetton
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Barbie gained fame not simply as a product but as an icon. Barbie was said to be “the archetypal woman”, a modern Mona Lisa. On television feminists said Barbie was a bimbo and bad for children. Mrs Handler retorted that Barbie offered children choices of what to be when they grew up. Academe bent its mind to the Barbie phenomenon. Students on a sociology course were set the following exercise: “What criticisms have been made of Barbie as a role model? Do you agree with this criticism? In your opinion should the manufacturers be sensitive to this criticism? There are no ‘right' answers to these questions, but you should develop a line of reasoning that reflects your values.”

Ruth Handler was herself a success story in an honoured American tradition. Her parents had arrived in the United States in a steamship, travelling steerage, the cheapest accommodation, and settled in Denver. Her father was a blacksmith who had brought his family from Poland so that he would not be conscripted into the Russian army. Mother never felt very well, exhausted after bearing ten children. But big families have a way of looking after themselves, and Ruth, the youngest, says she was well cared for.

At the age of 19 she headed for Hollywood. She did not make it into the film business. She took a course in industrial design, met a boy on the same course and married him. Mattel was started in a garage, adding to another bit of American industrial lore. Ruth Handler and her husband at first made picture frames, then furniture for dolls' houses, then toys, including a child's guitar that found a market. The firm seems to have done reasonably well and in the 1950s Mrs Handler had a holiday in Europe. In Switzerland she came across a German-made doll about 11in tall called Blonde Lilli, of improbable proportions, dressed in skimpy clothes, and presumably designed to raise the ambitions of young men.

Suppressing her American blushes, Mrs Handler bought three and took them back to America. She said she had been thinking for some time of producing a “grown-up” doll for children, but the men in her firm said there would be no demand for one: what children liked was dolls that looked like babies. Inspired by Lilli, Mrs Handler designed a respectable American doll called Barbie (her daughter's name) with breasts but without nipples and wearing clothes that were pretty but non-provocative. The first dolls were made in Japan and in 1959 “Barbie the teenage model” made its debut at the American Toy Fair in New York. It was the success of the show, selling 350,000 Barbies in the first year. Since then more than a billion Barbies have been sold worldwide.

According to Mattel, an American girl aged up to 11 is likely to own ten Barbie dolls. French children are said to own five. But several million grown-up women are also said to own Barbies. “She is more than a doll to them, whatever their age,” Mrs Handler said. “She has become part of them.” There are Barbie collectors of both sexes: a 1959 Barbie that sold for $3 is now said to be worth $5,000 in good condition. Barbie retains an almost sexless body that can puzzle knowing children who wonder how Barbie was born without a belly button and has no obvious means of reproduction. “Hey, Momma...?”“That's enough, dear, or I'll take Barbie away.”

In defending Barbie against the feminists Mrs Handler said her creation is a career woman and not at all empty headed. But Barbie has had so many careers, and at 43 marriage seems to be a declining prospect. There is a boyfriend called Ken, named after another of Mrs Handler's children. Barbie and Ken have been together for years. What are Ken's intentions? Barbie was born in the innocent 1950s, and may find the mores of these changeable times hard to cope with. Barbie's friends of all ages are concerned.

Source: The Economist 2 May 2002.
Date: 2005-08-11 00:07:43

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wow street art disign:)
wieszax 2005-08-11 00:10:57
E R I 2005-08-11 00:13:08
Totally Barbie, but nice!
t_a_i_s 2005-08-11 00:48:20
I'd seen this in a shop window, but I hadn't my camera with me! Thanks for the pic!
(I bet it is everywhere the same all around the world!)
cuorhome 2005-08-12 16:48:59

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