Texas Tech Pop-Culture Expert Compares Reinventions of Barbie to Madonna
March 9, 2009
In the past 50 years, Barbie's come a long way, baby, according to a pop-culture expert
at Texas Tech University.
She was small and so petite. Her clothes and figure looked so neat. Her dazzling
outfit rang a bell. At parties she would cast a spell.
But in the past 50 years, Barbie's come a long way, baby, according to a pop-culture
expert at Texas Tech University.
For better or for worse, very few toys have had the impact that the Mattel-made doll
has had on American culture, said Richard Verrone
, unit coordinator of undergraduate research in the Honors College and a history expert
on pop-culture and 20th
century America. The doll probably vies for the No. 1 spot of most iconic toy with
"In the past 50 years, Barbie has totally evolved," Verrone said. "It's interesting
to watch that. She's someone who has constantly reinvented herself, kind of like Madonna
has during her career. She's always changing not only with what the makers of Barbie
think that's going to sell but also with what's going to be relevant to young women.
In 1959 she was blond-haired, blue-eyed and they actually put tan lines on the doll
to make her this beach beauty girl. She's changed to a multi-career woman who juggles
life like today's woman. She's been an astronaut, a vice-president candidate and a
World Cup soccer player. Now you've got black, Hispanic and Asian Barbies as well
as other nationalities. She's the epitome of an evolving icon in American pop culture."
While it's true that the doll experienced some serious backlash for teaching negative,
subordinate stereotypes to girls during the feminist movement in the '70s and '80s,
marketers began to realize Barbie had to grow with the changing social landscape if
they wanted to keep her on store shelves.
"Early on, feminists had a huge problem with this stereotypical figure being the only
example in girls' bedrooms for young girls to imitate," he said. "But the other side
of the argument is that Barbie gave young girls an outlet of imagination - 'Here are
the things I can do. She doesn't have to be in the bathing suit.' They could make
her what they wanted in their imaginations.
"The more sophisticated Barbie becomes, the worldlier she becomes, then the more relevant
she'll continue to be. She's weathered the storms of American pop-culture. As long
as there are Barbies of different races and different careers, she'll be around."
CONTACT: Richard Verrone, unit coordinator, the Honors College, Texas Tech University,