I confess: I was a Barbie girl.
What did you play with as a kid, Hot Wheels, Legos, Army Men? Your toys forge your identify. They enable you to play out your hopes and dreams. You can be anything you want in the land of make believe.
As a kid, I was what we in (non PC) days referred to as a Tom Boy, l loved rough and tumble outdoors play. I also loved Barbie. For me, Barbie represented possibility. With her go-go boots and cool convertible, she was the dream for generations of girls.
Introduced in 1959, Barbie’s evolution mirrors my own. Like many of us, Barbie hit some low points. As Barbie began aging, she lost her some of her mojo. By 2014 her stilettos were wearing thin, she suffered ten consecutive quarters of systemic sales decline. Our cool girl was no longer a role model; she was a symbol of the past.
But Barbie is no quitter. She was down, but she wasn’t out. She’s older, she’s wiser, and she was ready to reinvent herself. Enter Juliana Chugg, who in 2015 took on the role of executive vice president at Mattel and chief brand officer for Barbie to lead our girl back to glory.
Chugg says, “We listened to the values of parents who were looking for brands that have depth and meaning. We refocused on that noble purpose to inspire girls.”
Chugg and her team unpacked Barbie’s past and the values that once made her great. Barbie was created by working mom Ruth Handler to inspire imagination and creativity for little girls, providing them with all the possibilities they could be when they grew up.
Barbie was all that and more for my friends and me. While our brothers were turning the living room into a Hot Wheels maze, we were transforming the attic into Barbie World. We didn’t know any real women with glamorous lives, but with Barbie as our guide, we spent hours envisioning a magical future where we too drove a convertible, and wore stilettos to work. Sure, Barbie had a pencil thin waist and weird pointed feet, but we didn’t give that much thought. We were too busy sending her on adventures, imagining her jobs, and playing out her torrid romance with Ken. Who interestingly enough, was rarely allowed to speak in our Barbie World.
Barbie’s early wardrobe consisted of a bathing suit, a few play outfits, an evening gown, and a wedding dress. She ruled our attic like a queen.
When I was eight, on my first solo trip to my South Carolina grandmother, Barbie’s aspirations improved in a big bold way. Grandma asked if I’d like to make Barbie some new clothes. We spent hours sewing Barbie’s new duds. My mother laughed out loud when I returned home trotting out Barbie’s new wardrobe of a judge’s robe, a doctor’s coat, and a business suit for when she tried a case in front of the Supreme Court.
Barbie was going places; the rest of us were not too far behind.
As a young mother in the 90s, I vacillated about buying my daughter a Barbie. Was she the right body image for a little girl? After caving in, I almost wept in the Target aisle when my little blonde four-year-old chose African American veterinarian for her first Barbie.
Flash forward to today. Under Chugg’s leadership, there are now 23 new types of Barbie’s with eight different skin tones and a variety of hair colors and other features to reflect the multicultural society in which we live.
Barbie, I have to hand it to you girlfriend. You grew, you changed you evolved, and now you’re back better than ever. You’re Barbie; you can do anything.