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Barbie still fabulous at 50

So, Barbie, you'll be 50 on Monday. We know you've had lots of plastic surgery — you are plastic — but hey, girl, you still look great. Those legs! (They say the legs are the last thing to go.) That wasp-thin waist! (Jenny Craig? Weight Watchers?) That complexion! (Don't you love glycolic acid?) • Remember when we first met in 1959? We were skinny little girls with braces and you had the face and body of a Playboy pinup. Our brothers made crude remarks. We liked to play beauty parlor and whack off your ponytail. (If we'd only known that the No. 1 Barbie could be worth $10,000 someday. Stupid kids.) • You were born a bimbo, but you knew class when you saw it. We loved how you looked as Jackie Kennedy, what with that big bubble-cut 'do and those pillbox hats and those long white gloves (too bad so many got sucked into the vacuum cleaner). You were even more elegant in the mid '60s when Mattel sleeked up your hair. If you had been real, Alfred Hitchcock would have cast you — he had a thing for icy blonds.

Then, let's face it, the British invasion caught you off guard. You seemed downright matronly among all those London gals with their miniskirts, foot-long lashes and impossibly straight, glossy hair. So you ducked into a Carnaby Street salon and emerged as — Jean Shrimpton! Twiggy!

Actually, you were Japanese for the first decade of your life. (It said so right there on your rear end — MADE IN JAPAN). Then, the Japanese realized there was a lot more money in cars and electronics, so Mattel started moving you around the globe — Hong Kong, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia and finally China. Did you ever read that Wall Street Journal piece about the little Chinese factory workers bouncing Barbie heads off the walls? Look it up — you'll love it.

As you got older, it was nice to see how much your circle of friends and family grew. Skipper. Francie. Midge. Christie. P.J. Stacie. And crewcut Ken! What a dork! No wonder Mattel put him back in his box for years. Or maybe you read the Feminine Mystique and realized you would manage quite fine without him.

Yes, Babs, you turned out to be quite the liberated woman. Pilot, surgeon, firefighter, astronaut, reporter — you've done it all (Is your newspaper still in business? How's your 401(k)?) For those of us who are now playing Barbies with our granddaughters, you've also proved a master at something even better — bridging the generation gap.

So, happy 50th! Have a big piece of birthday cake! Have two — it won't show on you. (Your friends at Mattel will see to that.)

Susan Taylor Martin had a few Barbies as a child, all of which disappeared during a move from New York to Florida. She began collecting vintage dolls and outfits in the mid 1990s. She can be contacted at susan@sptimes.com.

Remembering Barbie's early days

Christmas 1959: Seeing Barbie for the first time

My voluptuous childhood gal-pal, Barbie, was a 1959 Christmas gift. I was 7. I didn't ask for one; she was so new, I never had heard of her. She was never a vessel for my aspirations nor a rebuke to my measurements.

Barbie had her own endearing inadequacies. The frizzle of bangs, frankly, was all wrong. They should have been longer and straight. When my mother bought furniture (pre-official Barbie brand), Barbie's rigid body could not conform to the cool Le Courbusier miniature reproduction chaise so she levitated slightly above it. Her legs stuck out awkwardly when seated on the little daybed. She had great clothes but her shoes, high-heeled slides, were one-note and boring.
No, not a role model.

She was a launching pad for parties. I had one for my friends called Barbie's Wedding. She was decked out in her bridal gown. My mother ordered a
wedding cake from the bakery. My friends brought little gifts. One's mother was an artist; she wove a set of tiny table linens and towels.

Barbie wasn't actually marrying anyone; Ken hadn't been invented. Oddly, we didn't miss him.

Lennie Bennett, the Times' art critic, regrets that she tossed out her No. 1 Barbie 30 years ago rather than saving her for a large sale on eBay. She can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

Solo in the Spotlight, and then soaring

I began collecting Barbie in 1996 after a divorce. I felt lost at the time and wondered what to do with the rest of my life. I saw a reproduction Barbie in the store and it stirred memories of a time when I was not married and I was free of doubt and regret. I bought the reproduction of Solo in the Spotlight and began a new journey. I went back to school and got a bachelor's degree that led to a great career where I traveled the world training on the usage of proprietary software. Today, I have an admirable vintage and contemporary Barbie collection. Barbie may be turning 50 but she has a lot of good dreams left in her. Get your Barbie today and dream. Like Barbie says, "You can do anything."

Teresa Jackson, president of the Gulf Coast Sand Dollars Doll Club, Oldsmar

A special connection with Barbie's friend Midge

My relationship with Barbie started on purely mercenary terms. As a tomboy growing up, I was more interested in horses, boys and GI Joe. I did ask for one childhood doll — Chatty Cathy. My quest for Chatty and accessories led me to doll shows where I discovered that I could buy Barbie, sell her, and make money to support my "Chatty Habit." Eventually, I fell for Barbie's glamor. Slowly but surely, Barbie began to sidle into my life. Honestly, who could resist her sultry beauty and haute couture? The ponytail brunettes are my favorite, but Barbie's best friend, Midge, has a special place in my heart. She is the freckle-faced, loyal girl next door. She's cute, but not drop-dead "Ginger" gorgeous like Barbie. I imagine that Midge, like me, was a tomboy with guy friends, the cute "Mary Ann" of the doll world. Barbie might be the girl every boy wants to take to the prom, but Midge is the girl all the boys want to marry.

Melissa Mince, lawyer, Seminole

Barbie still fabulous at 50 03/06/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 9, 2009 8:59am]

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