Fifty Shades of Barbie

Warning – Reader should note that this is not erotica fiction.

I’m joining the throngs of those who are capitalizing on the year’s fifty shades theme. At a recent visit to Target my daughters and I happened on the Barbie aisle. Oh.My.Word.

When did Barbie become an untamed monster?

While some may think she was always a monster, I liked her. I never saw Barbie as ‘real’. She didn’t have a figure I wanted – she was plastic. I found real images to be far more damaging in terms of affecting my body image. Barbie was just a doll with hard plastic boobs – nothing I wanted to be, just something I wanted to play with, dress, pretend with, catch her kissing in the shoe box with Ken (or better, GI Joe) à la Erma Bombeck. 

JuliaMy first (perhaps only) Barbie was a “Julia” Doll. “Julia-Barbie” was created after a hit television show that aired from 1969 through 1971 called “Julia”. It starred Diahann Carroll in the role of Julia, a widowed single mom who worked as a nurse. It was ground breaking in casting an African-American as the lead. Julia the Doll was ground breaking as well.

It was the early ’70’s and most dolls were white. Julia had brown skin.

As I look back on the time and my desire for a Barbie, I appreciate that my parents purposely decided that Malibu Barbie would be incongruent with raising a daughter in Pakistan, a country where whites are the minority and most people have skin color of varying shades of brown. While Malibu Barbie may have been the dream of other 12-year olds, the minute I held my Julia Doll I ran around the house screaming with excitement. She was beautiful with her big brown eyes, cute short haircut, and her nursing uniform…yes – Julia came complete with a crisp, white, tailored uniform and a nursing cap. I was in a heaven of sorts.

I also went on to become a nurse. I’m not sure if my Julia Doll had anything to do with it but it certainly didn’t hurt.

So while there have always been variations on the Barbie theme, they seemed more manageable. Now? It’s nuts.

Take a look and see for yourself through this Fifty Shades of Barbie Photo Montage. Then weigh in through the comments on these questions:  Do you like Barbie? Has Barbie become a monster or was she always a monster? Did you have a Barbie and if so, which kind? Did you want to be Barbie, or did you see her for what she is – pure plastic?

9 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Barbie

  1. I have been picking up Barbies and costumes at garage sales and have a nice array of them here for my granddaughters to play with. At home, the 8-yr-old Mikayla plays with Polly Pockets and American Girl dolls. Just recently I bought the K-Mart version of “American Girl” for the purpose of having one at home to try on outfits that I make for Mikayla’s dolls. Just like you, Marilyn , I avoided the blondes and went for the one with dark hair and slightly Asian brown eyes! Despite the fact that I am the mother of four boys, I sure enjoy playing with those dolls!


    1. I love this and can’t wait to make doll clothes for granddaughters! Great idea to pick these up at yard sales as well. Discards turned to treasure under a grandma’s watch! Thanks for reading and commenting Karen!


  2. I did not have a Barbie but that is because I grew up in a very different part of the world. However, I did buy couple of Barbies for my daughter when she was young. I recall very well her playing happily with them for hours … Barbie with mermaid like outfit was especially popular. But that was all that was to it … she (OK – we -:)) played with dolls that happened to be called Barbies and came with nice outfits and hair one can comb! Having said that, I have since noticed some other dolls (Bratz come to mind) looking rather raunchy … well it reflects the time in which we live … sadly.

    Best Wishes,


  3. Strange, I have only the vaguest memory of that Julia doll. I think you give your Dad and me more credit than we probably deserved for picking Julia over Barbie. Probably I was attracted to the professional aura, and the nurse uniform. You had wanted to be a nurse from the time you were very small. Besides seeming too sexy for little girls, I thought Barbie was a perfect image of the proverbial “dumb blond” an insult to the bright girl I knew you were! I do remember your chatty Kathy doll – I think you wore out her voice. Did we get you the blond or the brunette? And there was a pre-teen doll, wasn’t there? Can’t remember her name! Good post! We don’t spend much time in toy sections of stores any more:)


  4. I have never seen Barbie as a problem, but perhaps that is because as a male I have not been paying attention. A doll is a doll. Who expects it to be realistic?

    A lot of years ago in Thailand, my half Chinese Muslim daughter was given a pair of Barbies: one blonde, the other dark-haired. Never having seen a blonde person, she rejected the blonde doll and only played with the other one.


  5. Love this perspective from you as you’re right in the middle of the whole doll thing. I never thought about it but great perspective on the PG Barbie compared to the “Street dolls” – it really makes me wonder what goes on in meetings where they talk about what to create, what will sell etc.!
    It would be interesting to see if there is a study out on the influence plastic dolls have vs. real images from television, magazines etc. Always love your perspective whether I get it in person or online! Coffee sometime?!


    1. They clearly aren’t asking moms for their feedback during those meetings! :) Let’s definitely plan a coffee or cocktail date soon! Will email you some dates!
      ps- Would love to hear what you thought about the Lego Friends set Annie was holding in the picture. We’d had some interesting conversations in our extended family amongst the Lego vs Non-Lego kids. My sister, a Lego kid, is horrified and thinks it’s awful how they’re down playing legos. Me, a non Lego kid and very much a doll kid, would have been much more interested in Legos if they’d had some realistic accessories and dolls to build things for! What did you think?


  6. I couldn’t agree more Marilyn! I always liked Barbies as a kid and always enjoyed playing with them. I never wanted to be Barbie and just saw her for what she was. A hard plastic doll that was fun to dress up and to set up elaborate scenes and sets for. Now as the mother of two small girls I am very aware of outside influences shaping my daugthers’ images of themselves, yet I still Barbie in the same light. Their interest in Barbie is relegated to her sparkly wardrobe and fancy shoes. More often than not Barbie gets thrown over for their American Girl dolls with their much more real girl life like wardrobe, accessories, pets, and ways to interact. (AG marketing is a whole separate blog post…) You probably also noticed during your stroll down the doll and Barbie aisles at Target that Barbie has become the PG rated sister to some much racier dolls – Bratz, Monster High, etc – so while i find Barbie to be pretty benign, I do have to wonder what part of society thinks little girls should be playing with figures that look more appropriate for standing on a street corner late at night…


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