First ever Barbie commercial - 1959
Barbie Meets Ken - 1961
Barbie manages two years without a boyfriend. Ken seems to have changed quite a lot in appearance since 1961 - he looks positively ancient in comparison to the blond Prince Charming figure that I grew up with.
Color N Curl Barbie 1965
Superstar Barbie 1976
Whatever that girl's on, I want some.
Super Hair Barbie - 1980s
"Glamorous" jumpsuit? I beg to differ!
Great Shape Barbie - 1983
This is absolutely revolting. Really, really worrying. Is it any wonder that the girls who were in the target age group in 1983 are now paying extortionate gym memberships and devouring creepy women's magazines instead of carbs? You're looking good, Barbie!
Olympic Skater Barbie
The first advert I've come across on YouTube for a Barbie who does anything not directly related to improving her appearance.
Dance Club Barbie
Glitte Hair Barbie - 1994
Teacher Barbie - 1995
A Barbie that does something non-gender specific. Hooray!
Splash & Color Barbie - 1996
Olympic Gymnast Barbie - 1996
1996 was the year that the US gymnastics team won the Atlanta Olympics. Here, Barbie embodies the American Dream...
Barbie Hair Highlights - 2006
Top Model Barbie - 2007
And finally, the whole Barbie theme is subverted in this 90s advertisement for Cool Shaving Ken. Look how ridiculous it seems when the Ken doll is subjected to his own beauty regime...
Something that really strikes me is that in advertisements featuring children playing with the dolls, the children themselves seem to have got older and older. In 1965, they look about six - around the same age as the target audience. In that 2007 commercial they look about fourteen. I wonder what's happening here - if Mattel are trying to expand the age range of their customer base, or if they're going for an even more aspirational theme.
I was never allowed to have Barbies as a child, but boy did I want them. It wasn't just about peer pressure - I wanted a Sega Megadrive and a BMX bike because of peer pressure, but neither of them had quite the same delinquent appeal. I think a lot of the time, particularly with the children of parents who disapprove of this sort of thing, part of the appeal of Barbie is that girls know that there's something a bit naughty about liking something that's just about being pretty. Mattel know damn well that what little girls want is not Nuclear Physicist Barbie, or UN Diplomat Barbie, or Human Rights Lawyer Barbie. What they want is Pop Idol Barbie, Glamour Model Barbie and Botox Barbie. Barbie has always been presented as a vacuous model with an IQ inferior to her waist measurement because that's what consumers want from her.
I think if I have daughters I'll be inclined to let them have Barbie dolls if they want them. I see no real harm in them in the context of a relatively gender-neutral upbringing and besides, banning things just draws attention to them. I think once a child wants a toy, any damage associated with it has already been done. Banning after school television makes much more sense than banning the toys advertised on it.
Seeing that Great Shape Barbie commercial really brings home for me how far we've come in the last twenty years. I really don't think that a commercial such as this would be tolerated now. I'd like to live in a world in which six-year-old girls aren't encouraged to be obsessed with dresses and make up, but I'm glad that I no longer live in a world in which six-year-old girls are encouraged to be obsessed with the circumference of their thighs.