As if it were yesterday, I am standing in front of my Grandmother’s house when my Aunt Loraine hands me my first Barbie doll in a long, clear box. She’s a platinum blonde with a black and red ball gown and a white fur wrap. I spend hours on end playing out Barbie’s life (with special attention to dating scenarios), with my two childhood friends, Musette and Barbie. Their names may seem surreal, but so was my Barbie doll — allowing me to imagine myself as a grown girl, complete with breasts and sophisticated clothing.
Playing out a glamorous, vicarious life through my Barbie doll represented a step far beyond playing mommy with my former baby dolls. Instead, I could dream of an independent life — with a career kicking off in a candy striper’s outfit and moving up to an airline hostess, never without my entourage of exotic outfits to wear in cities all over the world. My favorite was a tight, red Chinese-style dress with gold Mandarin buttons and a fan accessory. Mattel allowed me to believe the world was mine to do with what I wished.
This week, Elliot Handler (cofounder of Mattel), died of heart failure. Although Elliot is typically credited with inventing the Barbie doll, it was actually his wife (Ruth Handler, who passed in 2002) that came up with the Barbie doll concept by watching her daughter Barbara play. The first Barbie doll launched in 1959 to instant success, immediately molding an icon for every American girl. I would say that the two greatest media influences that allowed me to see myself as a woman in business were Scarlett O’Hara and Barbie. One had no lack of words, and the other I learned to speak for.
Thank you, Elliot and Ruth Handler for taking a creative leap!