This year Barbie turns 50; it’s not an achievement to be taken lightly.
From her humble beginnings as a teenage fashion model doll, Barbie has grown to become one of the most interesting cultural icons of our time.
With her long blonde hair, glowing tan and crazy proportions, Barbie is a sight to behold. But really, it’s her clothes that fascinate and delight.
Because for many girls, playing with Barbie is their first foray into the world of fashion.
You pull that Barbie out of her box and straight away you begin to discover new textures and fabrics, you are suddenly aware of shoes and accessories.
And when you don’t get any new outfits for her, you learn to improvise with scraps of materials and you invent something new and wonderful.
After attending the Forever Barbie exhibition at Federation Square last week, I realise now that Barbie is fashion.
She has collaborated with every major fashion designer; from Lagerfeld, Chanel and Vera Wang to Galliano, Versace and Givenchy.
Her wardrobe contains thousands of outfits representing every fashion moment; from chic little Chanel suits, leather jackets, ball gowns, wedding dresses and various national costumes. Her shoe collection is out of this world.
And there’s no doubting her importance as a cultural icon. Anyone who’s anyone has had a Barbie doll created in their image.
From classic beauties like Audrey Hepburn and to Beyonce today – there’s even Elvis and Lisa Marie Presley wedding day Barbies!
And she’s multicultural – who knew there was an ancient Greek Barbie doll?
Growing up, I had several Barbie dolls; Ballerina Barbie was nice, but her clothes were kind of boring and once I gave her a haircut, I kind of lost interest.
My favourite was always the United Colours of Benetton Barbie. As far as I was concerned, she was phenomenal.
Her masses of long, blonde and crimped hair flowed down past her waist and she wore blue floral leggings. She had a long yellow roll-neck jumper, a short red skirt and a long red jacket – all with matching floral trim.
Her shoes were these incredible pink suede boots and she came with a red felt cowboy hat, a slouchy bag that matched her floral leggings and a hairbrush. I loved her so much.
I loved her because at the time I was going through a period of wearing ridiculously pattered tights with silly skirts over the top.
I loved to put my hair into dozens of tiny plaits so that it crimped just like hers. I lusted after a pair of pink suede boots. I was delighted to see Benetton Barbie in the exhibition last week.
I know a lot of parents don’t believe girls should play with Barbie dolls. I know she’s meant to perpetuate all these horrible stereotypes about women, that her body is unrealistic and her tan is unhealthy.
It’s also quite sad to note that these days, Barbie isn’t the go-getter she once was.
But it’s not Barbie’s fault, she is just a reflection of the times and in the noughties, you no longer need talent or brains to become famous, so Barbies have become a little freaky looking.
They have giant cat-shaped eyes, huge boobs and nonsense careers as fairies, princesses and pop stars.
But Barbie used to be a very good role model and her mantra was always: “I can be anything.”
And she was, because with over 100 careers, Barbie is not just a clothes-horse. She has been a teacher, vet, doctor, lawyer and policewoman.
She’s also been a TV chef, an astronaut, an Olympic gymnast and swimmer and a rock star.
She’s been in the army, the navy and the marines, gone to college and at one stage she even ran for president on the platform of greater opportunities for women and girls, educational excellence and animal rights.
One of the coolest parts of the Forever Barbie exhibition is the ‘Aspirational Barbie’ case.
It’s a collection of dolls created by young girls, and there isn’t a princess or reality TV star Barbie among them.
It’s impressive to see that these Barbies are concerned with the environment and the future of the earth.
They’re saving oceans; solar panels in their outfits help with the energy crisis; they don’t drive; they’re vegetarian; they’re saving endangered species, exploring space and hanging out with their family and friends.
So why isn’t Mattell giving these little girls what they want? I’m sure parents would be a lot happier buying their daughters Politically Correct Vegan Shoe Wearing Barbie.
Clearly we’re not giving little girls enough credit. Yes, clothes and shoes aren’t everything, but they’re certainly a lot of fun – and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Barbie should be celebrated as a strong, independent woman who can do anything she wants while still looking fabulous.