Cover image for The Barbie chronicles : a living doll turns 40
The Barbie chronicles : a living doll turns 40
McDonough, Yona Zeldis.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999]

Physical Description:
240 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Touchstone book."
Who's that girl? / Golden oldie / Barbie buys a bra / Elegy for my mother / Teen idol / Barbie meets Bouguereau / Barbie's body project / Sex and the single doll / Barbie at 35 / My mentor, Barbie / Barbie in black and white / Barbie does Yom Kippur / Photographing the dolls / Of mere plastic / Planning the fantasy wedding -- Holocaust Barbie -- Barbie's gyn appointment / Material girl / Barbie gets a bum rap / I believe in dolls / You can never have too many / Barbie doesn't live here anymore / Twelve dancing Barbies / Barbie as boy toy
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library NK4894.3.B37 B373 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



To some she's a collectible, to others she's trash. In The Barbie Chronicles, twenty-three writers join together to scrutinize Barbie's forty years of hateful, lovely disastrous, glorious influence on us all. No other tiny shoulders have ever, had to carry the weight of such affection and derision and no other book has ever paid this notorious little place of plastic her due. Whether you adore her or abhor her, The Barbie Chronicles will have you looking at her in ways you never imagined.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Since her birth at the hands of Ruth and Elliot Handler in 1959, Barbie has been decried for her bad influence on girls' self-esteem and become the object of praise for her ability to elevate girls' play beyond baby dolls and kitchen sets. Though she's only a molded hunk of plastic, Barbie has wielded a curious amount of power over the last 40 years. McDonough (Tying the Knot) attempts to present differing points of view about Barbie, but the overall tone is one of admiration, even from the doll's critics. Anna Quindlen wistfully imagines driving a silver lam‚ stake between Barbie's perfect breasts, while Ann duCille discusses issues of race and conformity, positioning Barbie at the center of what's wrong with the doll section of toy stores. Other essayists strike a gentler tone: Jane Smiley, Erica Jong, Carol Shields and Steve Dubin see the dark side of what the doll could represent to young girls, but recapture the original, guilty delight they felt when posing, defacing and, predominantly, undressing her. This well-chosen group of writers artfully explores the world that created Barbie, the childhood selves the authors remember and the meaning behind one of our era's most controversial pieces of plastic. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

No longer just a child's plaything, "Barbie has become an icon and a fetishÄto some angelic, to others depraved." In honor of Barbie's 40th birthday, McDonough (Tying the Knot) has collected 20 stories and five poems in one volume: Steven Dubins's essay on Barbie's origins as a German pornographic doll; Jane Smiley on Barbie's "genius," which took girls from big hairdos and pink jeans to women's self-knowledge and rights; Anna Quindlen on her desire to "drive a stake through Barbie's plastic heart"; and a lots of essays with priceless titles ("Barbie Does Yom Kippor" and "Sex and the Single Doll"). Speaking largely to today's 30- to 45-year-olds, the varying intellectual and emotional perspectives here make for an engaging blend of idiosyncratic remarks and in-depth social commentary. Comparable in its irreverent style to Adios, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Images and Identity (Seal Pr.-Feminist,1998); recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄKay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Anamosa (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Introduction When I first sat down in the summer of 1997 to pen a piece about Barbie, I imagined writing a wry, affectionate defense of the sexy little doll who seemed to be getting so much bad press. Little did I know how Barbie had changed in the three decades since she and I had parted company. I didn't really understand the fantastic impact she had made on American culture during those years nor the maelstrom of controversy that her mere name seemed to elicit. But the publication of my essay on the back page of The New York Times Magazine filled me in quickly: Barbie had been busy all this time, what with her brand-new professions, newly reconfigured face, hair, and, yes, even body. Ever since her 1959 debut, Barbie has been an amazingly popular doll. Created by Ruth and Elliot Handler in the late 1950s and named for their daughter, Barbara, Barbie has her origins in the German Lilli doll, a quasi-pornographic toy intended for men. The Handlers cleaned her up and toned her down before presenting her to the American market, but her inherent sexuality -- so stunning in a world of baby dolls and little girl dolls -- remained intact, just waiting for a generation of American children to discover her. Discover and fall head over heels in love. Her phenomenal success in the intervening years has spawned enough Barbie dolls to populate a small planet, to say nothing of the ancillary characters -- Skipper, Francie, Midge, Ken, Allan, and Kelly -- that fill her world. The girls who played with the very first Barbies are now grown, with Barbie-toting daughters of their own. But Barbie continues to exert a hold on their imaginations, as well as the imaginations of the boys who watched -- envious, disdainful, titillated, curious -- as their sisters, cousins, friends, and neighbors dressed, and undressed, their sexy, ever-so-adult-looking dolls. Forty years after her debut, Barbie is big news and big business. Millions of dolls, clothes, accessories, and paraphernalia are bought and sold every year. There are Barbie conventions, fan clubs, Web sites, and scores of publications. There is also, I soon discovered, a whole new literature of Barbie that emerged in the shadow of the consumer frenzy she created. She has inspired novelists and poets, commentators and journalists, and academics from a wide range of fields. No longer just a child's toy, Barbie has become an icon and a fetish -- to some angelic, to others depraved. And as such, she serves as a kind of springboard for a whole range of cultural discourse, some philosophical and reflective, some lighthearted and appreciative, some furious and damning. The Barbie Chronicles both grows out of and adds to the current conversation about Barbie. In it, I have included twenty essays and five poems written from varying intellectual perspectives as well as differing emotional ones. Some are original works commissioned specifically for this volume; others are reprinted from existing material. But whatever the take on Barbie is, it is never neutral. Anna Quindlen proposes driving a stake through Barbie's plastic heart, while Melissa Hook remembers her as a conduit through which she could connect with her frosty and distant grandmother. For these writers, Barbie has a talismanic power, one that illuminates both the world without and the self within. Here then are stories that will, I hope, shed a little more light on the meaning of America's most beloved, most notorious piece of posable plastic. Copyright © 1999 by Simon & Schuster Sex and the Single Doll Yona Zeldis McDonough Now that my son is six and inextricably linked to the grade school social circuit, he gets invited to birthday parties. Lots of them. Whenever I telephone to say he's coming, I always ask for hints on what might be a particularly coveted gift for the birthday child. And whenever that child is a girl, I secretly hope that the answer will be the dirty little word I am longing to hear: Barbie. No such luck. In the liberal Brooklyn neighborhood where we live, there is a definite bias against the poor doll, a veritable Barbie backlash. "My daughter loves her, but I can't stand her," laments one mother. "I won't let her in the house," asserts another. "Oh, please!" sniffs a third. But I love Barbie. I loved her in 1963, when she first made her entrance into my life. She was blond, with a Jackie Kennedy bouffant hairdo. Her thickly painted lids (carved out of plastic) and pouty, unsmiling mouth gave her a look both knowing and sullen. She belonged to a grown-up world of cocktail dresses, cigarette smoke, and perfume. I loved her in the years that followed, too, when she developed bendable joints; a twist-and-turn waist; long, silky ash-blond hair; and feathery, lifelike eyelashes. I never stopped loving her. I never will. I've heard all the arguments against her: She's a bimbo and an airhead; she's an insatiable consumer -- for tarty clothes, a dream house filled with garish pink furniture, a pink Barbie-mobile -- who teaches little girls that there is nothing in life quite so exciting as shopping. Her body, with its buoyant breasts, wasplike waist, and endless legs defies all human proportion. But at six, I inchoately understood Barbie's appeal: pure sex. My other dolls were either babies or little girls, with flat chests and chubby legs. Even the other so-called fashion dolls -- Tammy, in her aqua-and-white playsuit, and Tressy, with that useless hank of hair, couldn't compete. Barbie was clearly a woman doll, and a woman was what I longed to be. When I was eight, and had just learned about menstruation, I fashioned a small sanitary napkin for her out of neatly folded tissues. Rubber bands held it in place. "Oh, look," said my bemused mother, "Barbie's got her little period. Now she can have a baby." I was disappointed, but my girlfriends all snickered in a much more satisfying way. You see, I wanted Barbie to be, well, dirty. We all did. Our Barbies had sex, at least our childish version of it. They hugged and kissed the few available boy dolls we had -- clean-cut and oh-so-square Ken, the more relaxed and sexy Allan. They also danced, pranced, and strutted, but mostly they stripped, showing off their amazing, no-way-in-the-world human bodies. An adult friend tells me how she used to put her Barbie's low-backed bathing suit on backwards so the doll's breasts were exposed. I liked dressing mine in her pink-and-white candy-striped baby-sitter's apron -- and nothing else. I've also heard that Barbie is a poor role model for little girls. Is there such widespread contempt for the intelligence of children that we really imagine they are stupid enough to be shaped by a doll? Girls learn how to be women not from their dolls but from the women around them. Most often this means Mom. My own was a march-to-a-different-drummer bohemian in the early sixties. She eschewed the beauty parlor, cards, and mah-jongg that the other moms in the neighborhood favored. Instead, she wore her long black hair loose, her earrings big and dangling, and her lipstick dark. She made me a Paris bistro birthday party with candles stuck in old wine bottles, red-and-white-checked tablecloths for decorations; she read the poetry of T. S. Eliot to the assembled group of enchanted ten-year-olds. She was, in those years, an aspiring painter, and her work graced not only the walls of our apartment, but also the shower curtain, bathroom mirror, and a chest of drawers in my room. She -- not an eleven-and-half-a-inch doll -- was the most powerful female role model in my life. What she thought of Barbie I really don't know, but she had the good sense to back off and let me use the doll in my own way. Barbie has become more politically correct over the years. She no longer looks so vixenish, and has traded the sultry expression I remember for one that is more wholesome and less covert. She now exists in a variety of "serious" incarnations: teacher, Olympic athlete, dentist. And Mattel recently introduced the Really Rad Barbie, a doll whose breasts and hips are smaller and whose waist is thicker, thus reflecting a more real (as if children wanted their toys to be real) female body. None of this matters one iota. Girls will still know the real reason they love her -- and it has nothing to do with new professions or a subtly amended figure. Fortunately, my Barbie love will no longer have to content itself with buying gifts for my son's friends and the daughters of my own. I have a daughter now, and although she is just two, she already has half a dozen Barbies. They are, along with various articles of clothing, furniture, and other essential accoutrements, packed away like so many sleeping princesses in translucent pink plastic boxes that line my basement shelves. But the magic for which they wait is no longer the prince's gentle kiss. Instead, it is the heart and mind of my little girl as she picks them up and begins to play. I can hardly wait. Copyright © 1999 by Yona Zeldis McDonough Excerpted from The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty by Yona Zeldis McDonough All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Who's That Girl?Steven C. Dubin
Golden OldieStephanie Coontz
Dangerous Curves
Barbie Buys a BraPamela Brandt
Elegy for My MotherM. G. Lord
Teen Idol
Leslie Paris
Barbie Meets BouguereauCarol Ockman
Barbie's Body Project
Wendy Singer Jones
Sex and the Single Doll
Yona Zeldis McDonough
Happy Birthday to You!
Barbie at 35
Anna Quindlen
My Mentor, BarbieSusan Shapiro
Barbie in Black and WhiteAnn duCille
Barbie Does Yom Kippur
Rabbi Susan Schnur
Postmodern Muse
Photographing the Dolls
Jeanne Marie Beaumont
Of Mere PlasticDavid Trinidad
Planning the Fantasy
WeddingDenise Duhamel
Holocaust BarbieDenise Duhamel
Barbie's Gyn AppointmentDenise Duhamel
Material GirlMelissa Hook
Barbie Gets a Bum RapSherrie A. Inness
Our Daughters, Their Barbies
I Believe in DollsCarol Shields
You Can Never Have
Too ManyJane Smiley
Barbie Doesn't Live Here
AnymoreMariflo Stephens
Barbie, Twelve-Step ToyMolly Jong-Fast
Twelve Dancing BarbiesErica Jong
Barbie as BoyToyMeg Wolitzer
Notes and References

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