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She Has Everything

June 2024
1min read

Forever Barbie The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll

by M. G. Lord, William Morrow and Company, 326 pages.

From the day Barbie was created, her reign as the queen of dolls has been troubled and controversial, but she has always been popular. Ruth Handler, cofounder with her husband of Mattel Toys, found the inspiration for Barbie on a trip to Switzerland in the mid-fifties, when she saw a German-made doll named Lilli with the body of a pinup and icy-blonde looks. The Handlers transformed Lilli into a California girl and submitted her to a motivational researcher for a battery of marketing tests. Then Mattel unleashed her on America in 1959. She has never left.

Forever Barbie exhaustively documents Barbie’s life, starting in her made-in-Japan years, when women handsewed her tiny costumes, follows the countless changes in her wardrobe, and delves deep into her central paradox: She is a very sexual doll based on male fantasy ideals but created by a woman for girls. The combination has perplexed, excited, and angered generations of girls and women.

Barbie’s legacy, according to Lord: one Cindy Jackson, who spent fifty-five thousand dollars on cosmetic operations to turn herself into “a living doll"; Superstar , an eerie documentary about the anorectic entertainer Karen Carpenter that features a cast of Barbie dolls; and a flock of performers and artists who have used Barbie in their work. Forever Barbie is packed with photographs and always lively, if slightly overloaded with information and analysis. But then, this little plastic dynamo has always been good at getting attention.

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