POPSUGAR Love & Sex

Life in Plastic: A History of Barbie in Pop Culture

Mar 9 2014 - 5:00am

She may be turning 55, but Barbie is still a hot ticket. Last year, the Career of the Year Mars Explorer Barbie [1] doll was released, and Barbie's latest, non-Mattel incarnation is a version of the doll with normal body proportions [2]. Imagine that!

Life in plastic might be fantastic, but Barbie isn't without her controversies. From body-image issues to diversity, there have been some bumps along the way. Since her creation in 1959, Barbie has had 125 different careers [3], been bald and beautiful, transformed into a drag queen, been spoofed on SNL, and more. Let's take a look at her many incarnations, pop culture references, and highs and lows now!

— Additional reporting by Tara Block

"Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy"

In 1994's The Simpsons episode "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy," Lisa challenges the makers of the fictional Malibu Stacy to come up with a more interesting doll. By the end of the episode, Lisa creates Lisa Lionheart, a positive role model for girls. It was supposed to contrast the real Teen Talk Barbie, which was grabbing headlines at the time for saying things like "Will we ever have enough clothes?"

Big-Screen Barbie

Barbie, her wardrobe, and her adoring Ken stole the show in Toy Story 3. Now actor and Ken look-alike Trevor Donovan is reportedly in talks to play Barbie's longtime love in a live-action Barbie movie. Who will they cast as Barbie?

Current Events Barbie

Barbie has had over 100 careers, and often they reflect what's happening in the world. In 2000, Mattel unveiled one of its election-year President Barbies [4] (Hillary look-alike, right?), and there have been six military Barbies, including two for Desert Storm. Four Astronaut Barbies [5] have been released, in 1965, 1985, 1994, and 2013.

"Normal" Barbies

After artist Nickolay Lamm showed us what a normal-sized Barbie [6] would look like, we might actually see his imagined doll on shelves. Lamm has utilized the power of online crowd funding to turn his average-sized doll into a reality [7]. He's already far exceeded his monetary goals, so it looks like we may get a body-positive Barbie after all!

Source: Lammily [8]

Famous Faces

Barbie may be an icon herself, but she's also lent her mold to other significant women. Whether it's Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett or Will and Kate on their wedding day [9], you know you've made it as a celebrity when you can buy a Barbie-like version of yourself.

Barbie and Ken Get Real

Dreamhouse or house of nightmares? Photographer Dina Goldstein created a photo series called In the Dollhouse [10] to show the less-than-perfect reality of Barbie and Ken. The photos are sad, funny, and a bit depressing.

Source: Dina Goldstein [11]

Barbie Wannabes

Aqua isn't the only one to think life in plastic is fantastic. Heidi Montag [12] gave Sarah Burge — who spent $300,000 on 27 procedures to look like a "real-life Barbie" [13] — a run for her money when she had 10 operations in one day back in 2010. The result: a Barbie look-alike.

Brit as Skipper

Britney Spears [14] went inside the Barbie dream house in 2002 to play Skipper. Amy Poehler [15] played Barbie — and accidentally confessed to being Skipper's mother.

Diversity Challenged

Barbie's first foray into increased inclusivity didn't go so well when Colored Francie was released in 1967. Black Barbie came in 1980, but it wasn't until 2009, when the So in Style line came out that the black Barbies had more realistic features, although some critics took issue with the straight hair [16].

Share a Smile Becky, a doll who came in a wheelchair, was welcomed by disability advocates in 1997. Unfortunately, Barbie's dream house was not handicap accessible, and Becky could not fit through the doors. Mattel promised to redesign the house [17].

Life-Size Barbie

In 2011, college student and eating disorder survivor Galia Slayen built a scary life-size Barbie [18] in time for National Eating Disorder Week. She said that while she doesn't believe Barbie gives people eating disorders, the doll's unrealistic body does play a role in a young girl's development.

Barbie Ban

Barbie is even more controversial in the Middle East than she is in the US. She's been banned in many countries for not representing Muslim values and replaced with a different doll, Fulla [19]. The popular Fulla comes in a recognizable pink box, but she's wearing a hijab.

"Barbie Girl"

In 1997, the group Aqua put a Danish-Norwegian dance-pop twist on Barbie. They were awarded with one-hit-wonder status and a lawsuit by Mattel, alleging the song "Barbie Girl" violated its trademark and turned Barbie into a sex symbol. It was ruled a legal parody, and Mattel lost.

Bald and Beautiful Barbie

Thanks to the parents behind the Beautiful and Bald Barbie Facebook campaign [20] encouraging Mattel to make a doll for young people who've lost their hair due to illness, the company released a bald friend of Barbie's in 2013 [21]. The doll came with wigs, scarves, and hats was only available in hospitals. One mom has a Change.org petition [22] for Mattel to make more, but for parents looking for an alternative, MGA released bald Bratz dolls [23].

Source: Adventures in Child Life [24]

Twilight Barbies

Bella and Edward tied the knot [25] in 2011's The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I, but they were truly immortalized as Barbie dolls. The Edward doll [26] is the vampire's signature shade of white, and Bella Barbie [27] dons a movie-inspired wedding [28] dress replica.

(Not) Drag Queen Barbie

This special-edition Barbie was created by design duo and partners Phillipe and David Blond, known as The Blonds. The Blonds Blond Diamond Barbie [29] is the official name, but she's better known as Drag Queen Barbie.

Although Mattel and The Blonds have denied they intended to make a drag queen Barbie, the name is sticking thanks to her sky-high heels, strong makeup, sparkly dress, and over-the-top fur — not to mention, Phillipe Blond is known to dress in a similar drag look. But it's not clear whether drag queens inspired this Barbie or whether Barbie inspired drag queens. David says of Phillipe [30], "Usually when he is dressed to go to a fashion show, he looks like Barbie."

Katniss in Plastic

The bow-and-arrow-wielding Katniss Barbie doll [31] is based on the immensely popular leading lady from the hot book-turned-film series The Hunger Games. This modern Barbie is definitely a tougher role model for young girls than other incarnations!

Sassy YouTube Stars

The Most Popular Girls in School [32] is a very funny, very inappropriate stop-motion web series starring Barbie dolls as sharp-tongued high schoolers. It's like Mean Girls taken to the next level!

Source: YouTube user TheMostPopularGirls [33]

Barbie: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model?

This year's Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition celebrated 50 years by featuring Barbie as one of its swimsuit models [34]. Since both brands have dealt with criticism over their body-image depictions, it's no surprise that the collaboration has caused controversy. Two consumer advocacy groups are calling out the Girl Scouts to end their partnership with Barbie [35].


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