Barbie Hall of fame

Perky, pert… perfect. The pocket-size princess Barbie (“Babs” to those in the know) has been giving little girls wholesome playtime and unrealistic body expectations for nay on 50 years now, although it hasn’t been without her fair share of controversies.

Teen Talk Barbie
When playing Barbie, all the way up until July 1992 children were using their imagination by being Barbie’s voice when they played dolls. (Can you imagine!) Mattel figured this display of creativity may not foster good adult consumers, so they released ‘Teen Talk Barbie’, which spoke imitatable phrases such as “I love shopping!” and “Wanna have a pizza party?” among a set of 270. This moulding of young girls would have flown under the radar, had they not also included an exacerbated, “Math is hard!” which got the American Association Of University Women’s panties all twisted. They removed the phrase in October of that year after criticism. Manufacturing misogyny is hard too!

“Coloured Francie”
1959 was a very different time, so naturally Barbie was debuted in the only caste that would come to the mind of a ’59 toy designer: white. Well, technically a kind of anaemic yellow hue, but you know what I mean. The radical 60s must’ve rocked the foundations of this singular society, as in 1967 a new friend for Barbie was introduced: “Coloured Francie”, as she was known. Her tag line was, “Barbie’s MODern cousin” (in reference to her “mod” contemporary clothes). She wasn’t an African-American per se, just the regular Barbie in a different colour – with the same head mould and all, so without any African-American features. But the thought was there I suppose.

Oreo Fun Barbie
Luckily, Mattel learns from past mistakes. In 1997, they entered into a cross promotion deal with Nabisco and brought the world “Oreo Fun Barbie”. The theory was that little girls could come home from school and play with their favourite doll while eating their favourite cookie, Oreo. Because of their past mistakes, Mattel now had a policy of releasing any new edition Barbie in both white and black. They didn’t have a sensitivity policy in place though, because ‘Oreo’ is slang in the African-American lingo. Derogatory slang, at that – it refers to somebody being black on the outside, but white on the inside (like the cookies). The dolls were recalled.

Share A Smile Becky
1997 was a bad year for Mattel. You’d think that releasing a wheelchair-bound Barbie doll called “Share A Smile Becky” would level out the public impression of their sensitivity. (Especially because the wheelchair itself was fun, cute and pink.) It probably would have done, if the dolls were, y’know, able to live and play with the other “normal” Barbies. A 17-year-old high school with cerebral palsy was probably devastated to find that the wheelchaired doll could not fit into the elevator of Barbie’s dream house. But that’s OK; she could probably just sleep outside… right next to Coloured Francie’s drinking fountain.

Totally Tattoo Barbie
I know what you’re thinking: these were all a million years ago! A lot has changed, even since the 90s. One thing that hasn’t changed though is Mattel’s ability to court controversy under the guide of being progressive and modern. In April 2009, they unleashed ‘Totally Tattoos Barbie” onto the world. The selling point was that you could customise your doll – or even yourself - with a range of included tattoos that are applied with a tattoo gun. One of the included tattoos is what’s colloquially known as a “tramp stamp”, placed on the lower back just above the buttocks. They are also known as “arse antlers” or “slag tags”.

Pregnant Midge
So Mattel got the message that girls need dolls that reflect the real people in their lives, and also dolls that will let them act out events that may happen in their life. Wedding Barbie is a good example there, and a prime excuse to dress up to boot. Introducing “Pregnant Midge”, the doll for girls who dream of being pregnant; part of 2003’s ‘Happy Family’ line. Uh oh, what’s this? She has an indistinguishable age, so encourages teen pregnancy? And no wedding ring, so she’ll be a single mother too? The customer complaints generated were enough to make Wal-Mart hastily pull the line off their shelves.