Barbie turns 50 and the world is celebrating. What is being celebrated is not quite certain, given that Barbie receives as much derision as adulation. Barbie has had her fair share of condemnation from the ‘beauty-is-a-myth’ brigade. Yet, her charisma, in no small measure due to smart marketing efforts, continues to captivate millions of little girls around the world. Few playthings apart from Barbie have survived the onslaught of technological delights. In her sacrosanct and smug little world, with tribulations and struggle all in a day’s work, Barbie rules, and how.
Barbie ‘exists’ in 45 nationalities and various avatars, but the biggest compliment to her legendary status surely comes from the Barbie-inspired Fulla doll, created for sale in Arab countries. Fulla arrived on the scene complete with the hijab and a prayer mat, and a list of the values she upheld. Surely, Barbie is anathema to everything sacred in the Arab world. Yet, if with tweakings in costume and uh, expert ‘pitching’, Fulla can become a rage in the region, then there’s more to Barbie than the beauty myth. When little girls find her ‘cool’, they are invariably connecting, not only with the image of ‘feminine perfection’, but also to all those nebulous aspirations that a society dumps on its children — especially of empowerment and achievement. And because Barbie walks a fine balance between being politically correct and reasonably rebellious, she continues to rule. In fact, if the times dictate it, we may even find a Barbie who is a writer-activist.
In the meantime, Barbie’s 50th birthday must be celebrated for, among other things, she is also the doll on whom girls try out all patterns of cosmetic intrigue. Better a 50-year-old doll with highlighted hair than a 7-year-old yearning for the same. To that end, who dares to call Barbie a toy?