OK, since everyone else seems to be writing about her, it’s time for me to jump on the Barbie bandwagon.
First, I have to tell you I still have my childhood Barbie and Ken that came to me as hand-me-downs from my older sister, Susan.
Apparently, Susan had the first ever Barbie…the long haired blonde who came dressed in a black and white knitted one-piece swimsuit.
Unfortunately, all that’s left of the original is the bottom half of the suit…why someone cut off the top half, we will never know. Maybe it was our sister, Laura (born six years after Susan and six years before me), who preferred catching tadpoles over playing with Barbies.
The Barbie I inherited is a strawberry blond with bubble-cut hair from the early 60s. She’s much less valuable than the original, which is going for upwards of $25,000 these days. I’ve only recently come to appreciate the distinction. The new movie has prompted me to do some research.
To Susan and me, Barbie was a clothes horse. Before I was born, Susan would save her pennies and head to the Dupree drugstore on Slappey Drive in our hometown of Albany, GA to carefully select outfits and accessories.
I loved dressing Barbie in those beautiful clothes that Susan purchased years before I was born, but, in the 70s, I lost interest in the newer clothes that were not as elegant or well made.
Little did I know that over the past 60-plus years, Barbie has come to represent much more than fashion. Barbie has had more than 250 groundbreaking careers for women, including astronaut, pilot, firefighter and surgeon. She’s also been a candidate in nearly every presidential election since 1992.
Barbie now comes in a variety of body shapes, skin colors, ethnicity and abilities. Just this year, the first Barbie with Down syndrome was released.
In my opinion, the movie does a great job of displaying the range of Barbies, but one thing that is missing, for the most part, is the importance of pets to the iconic doll.
Spoiler alert…two pets that make an appearance in the movie are dogs that caused controversy in their time and were discontinued. Tanner disgustingly ate and pooped the same plastic poop repeatedly. Sugar was part of the Palm Beach Sugar Daddy Ken set. When folks took offense to the doll’s name, Mattel tried to justify that Ken was “Sugar’s daddy.”
According to Barbie lore, she has had more than 40 pets, including 21 dogs, six cats, 14 horses, three ponies and a parrot. (We won’t count the lion cub, giraffe, zebra, panda and chimpanzee as pets.)
A chimp accompanies the Dr. Jane Goodall Barbie, released last year to honor Goodall’s groundbreaking research with chimpanzees and her nature conservation efforts. Made of recycled plastic, Goodall is just one of the Inspiring Women Barbie series that pays tribute to real-life heroines.
For those who thought Barbie was a just a body shaming bimbo, it’s good to know that, according to Mattel, the doll’s purpose has been to inspire the limitless potential in every girl.
Of special note to me, there are at least three different Barbie veterinarian dolls, which I hope will inspire more girls to pursue this career and help fill a critical national shortage of vets.
I also hope that if the movie has a sequel, pets play a more prominent role next time. After all, it’s estimated that more than two-thirds of American households have pets. Barbieland needs better representation than Tanner and Sugar.
If you would like to add a pet to your home, please adopt during our “Big Dog Summer” promotion, now through Aug. 9.
To view adoptable animals, pasadenahumane.org/adopt
Dia DuVernet is president and CEO of Pasadena Humane.
This blog post originally appeared as a column in the Pasadena Star-News on August 4, 2023.