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COLUMN: The appeal of Barbie started in the 1950s

Go to any toy store, the Barbie aisle is awash in pink
This photo released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ryan Gosling as Ken, left, and Margo Robbie as Barbie in the new film Barbie, released last weekend with box office revenues topping $100 million. (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

A long time ago, I walked downstairs into the basement of a family friends house.

Colette mentioned that she had kept her Barbie doll from when she was young, and would I like to see it?

At that time of my life I was obsessed with two things: reading books and playing with Barbie dolls.

Opening the case was a surprise. I knew I was looking at one of the original dolls from the 1950s. I still remember how special that doll was to Colette, a treasured keepsake, but it also looked well loved.

The appeal of the Barbie doll is no mystery. They have been praised for encouraging female empowerment but also the cause of controversy.

The successes have been matched by colossal flops, but there is no denying the massive impact this doll has had on our lives, mine included. I would spend hours choosing outfits, combing their hair, dressing up and playing make believe with my Barbies.

My grandmother would knit tiny mohair jackets, skirts and dresses.

I tried my hand at sewing clothes, without much success, but I was fully involved in the fashion aspect of dressing up the dolls.

The toy company Mattel launched the Barbie doll in 1959, today they claim that three dolls are sold every second around the world.

With the launch of the new Barbie movie, a resurgence of interest in all things related to Barbie is expected to boost the sales further. You will be seeing a lot more marketing with the colour pink. Go to any toy store, the Barbie aisle is awash in pink.

Another toy company that cashed in on the doll craze was Mego. In 1976, they created a celebrity doll line which included the famous husband and wife singing duo, Sonny and Cher.

The iconic look that Cher had back then was straight, waist long hair. So of course I gave my Cher doll a hair cut.

What a mistake. Those dolls are collectors items, sold today for hundreds of dollars.

Cher’s costumes were designed by none other than Bob Mackie himself. He designed 32 different outfits for her doll, and each one had a name. Electric Feathers, Strawberry and Sun Kissed to name a few.

The Cher doll was the number one selling toy in 1976, surpassing sales of Barbie for a brief moment in time.

If I could turn back time, I would not have cut her hair.

If you want to learn more about the phenom that is the Barbie doll, stop by the Summerland branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

I am going to dust off my old dolls, comb their hair and put them on display, along with a selection of interesting books all about Barbie.To quote from the movie: “Because Barbie can be anything, women can be anything.”

Thanks Barbie!

Caroline McKay is the community librarian at the Summerland branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

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John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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