“Be who you want to be.” The mantra heard by little girls growing up with big dreams since the birth of the inspirational doll in 1959. 60 years later; Barbie continues to be a symbol that encourages young girls to explore endless career choices. To honor Ruth Handler’s (creator of Barbie) visionary doll, the 60th Anniversary of Barbie was celebrated with an exhibit at Skylight Mercer in Soho. Being that March is women’s history month, it was an exceptional time to celebrate.
Being a 90’s baby means I’m no stranger to playing with dolls. This makes me thankful that my childhood wasn’t riddled with technology till I hit my teen years. I still remember being a freshman in high school gushing over the 50th anniversary for Barbie behind my computer. Since I wasn’t able to experience any of those delightful activities at the time, I was eager to see what the 60th anniversary had to offer.
The exhibit began to take place Saturday morning. I decided to get there early to avoid crowds but typical MTA service on the weekends wouldn’t allow. It was still early so I didn’t think it would be long until I hit an unexpected line that stopped in front of Zara. At least I could stare into the shop window for the new season trends. The line only increased as passersby kept asking “what is this line for?” Once they found out it was for Barbie the line kept growing behind me.
About an hour passed and I was finally in. I expected pink to be everywhere so as soon I saw the huge pink balloon archway and the pink lit up “Barbie” sign, it felt comforting. Comforting because it was a reminiscence of my childhood. As I got closer to the sign, the wall was covered in tiny plastic barbie shoes. If only I could pluck a pair off the wall and put it on one of my old dolls (which I have none left of).
As anyone could have guessed, the first part of the exhibit displayed the first barbie ever made in 1959 with a history of Ruth Handler’s invention. I was glad to see the first barbie commercial ever made on a set of old television sets from the 1950s. Beside was the first Ken doll debuted in 1961. Yes, boys can play with dolls too and it was wonderful to see some of them interested in the exhibit as well. Just a reminder; it is 2019 where inclusivity includes gender fluidity.
Being that this event took place during Women’s History Month, this was a perfect time for young girls to learn more about where Women in history and also in the present day have power. While I think of the adults were probably more interested than the children because Barbie is not only a toy, but she also served as a symbolic figure that inspired many of us to have no limitations when it came to choosing a career and is also doing the same for girls in today’s generation. From occupations in nursing, technology, engineering, fashion design, and even working for NASA; The venue had a beautiful display of dolls in acrylic cases displaying all the careers that Barbie has put trade for young girls to aspire to be someday. The event was art and history in itself for adults to reminisce and had interactive displays for children to play with and learn from.
I spoke with Maria Bloem creator of the blog Oprah Complex and mother of a 9 year old daughter, Bella. Bloem said “when I heard about the Barbie 16 year event my inner child shrieked! I knew I had to have a special mother daughter day with my nine year old daughter Bella. I honestly can say I was pleasantly surprised.” I was pleased to hear this sentiment from Bloem because this event truly felt heartwarming and somehow bought everyone together as women.
“I really enjoyed seeing the look on my daughters face as she saw the many ways that Barbie was represented. The diversity, the fact that she could be anything she wanted to be. At the end she was able to pick out her very own Barbie! I was so happy for her.” Bloem said.
I think Barbie truly represents something unique to all of us and I wanted to know what Bloem thought of Barbie as a representation for young girls and she said “that’s what Barbie represents to me, empowerment. I created my own blog Oprah complex.com as a platform of empowerment for women, my daughter knows she can do anything she puts her mind to. It’s one of those days I won’t forget.”
I completely agree with Bloem’s statements. Barbie definitely serves as a figure of empowerment for young girls. The event also embodied that with their exhibit. Upon waiting on a treacherously long line that was moving through the venue, I passed a long wall of empty pink Barbie doll boxes. This seemed a bit peculiar to me as the boxes had specific titles on them, referring to career aspects and positions of power. I chatted briefly with a mother of two young daughters ahead of me in line and it became clear to us that the empty dog boxes with the titles written on them were a representation for the roles that women have it filled yet. To me this was such a profound and unique way for young girls to be inspired to possibly take on these roles someday in the future. Aside from being able to go into Barbies dream house, take a walk through Barbie’s closet and bedroom, seeing dolls of all different ethnicities and even dolls who had disabilities, the empty boxes at the end of the venue while leaving The venue was the perfect way to end the event. I think that left and imprint on the hearts of all females of all ages at that event to be inspired to go out and hold positions of power and do something greater with themselves.
Of course and event center around the celebration of Barbie and women’s history would not be complete without giving free Barbie dolls to each and every little girl who was leaving the event. Unfortunately adults were excluded from the receiving of free Barbies as they left the venue. Fortunately enough for most of the adults there, Who most likely took the day off from there a 9-to-5 were able to purchase limited edition Barbie’s and souvenirs. I myself could not resist picking up the Iris Apfel limited edition Barbie.
Apfel is a prominent figure in the fashion industry in her 90s. She is living proof that you are never too old to do anything, we are bright colors and a lipstick, and just to be who you want to be. It’s only fitting that she have her own Barbie because they both embody the same principle. The Iris Apfel doll has actually sparked just a bit of controversy with some debating whether or not the doll isn’t meant to be African-American because she is a Caucasian woman in real life. There are two versions of this doll however, the first version is Caucasian and the second edition version it appears to be African-American or highly spray tanned.
Of course it was also only fitting for me to purchase the doll as well because I had a dream of becoming a fashion designer and while I still do some of that I just couldn’t help but realize that it’s been over 15 years since I had that child in my heart from picking up a dog in a box and bringing it to the cashier. I have to admit, I was relieved to see that they were adults in their 50s purchasing Barbies for themselves. I shared this with my mother who has been a registered nurse for over 20 years and is also a clinical professor, and she asked why I didn’t bring her back a Barbie doll dress as a registered nurse.they were actually giving out Barbies dressed as a registered nurse to the little girls Who were saying that they want to be nurses when they grow up.
No matter your age, your gender, your race, or even your occupation, this event was a wonderful way for women to come together and express themselves and be inspired. It was also nice to see that there were no adults there who were bitter about their childhoods and not complaining about the things that they have not achieved. The Barbie’s 60th anniversary was a unique way to make women feel empowered and it was also nice to escape this crazy city of Manhattan and our daily nine to fives by being able to reminisce and reflect on our childhoods and encourage the next generation.