‘Imagination, Life is Your Creation’: Toying with the American Dream


My sister and I had three Barbies between us, or two Barbies (Astronaut Barbie ’86, Fun Time Barbie ’86) and a Skipper of unknown provenance. While there was no “true story” behind our dolls, which we liked just fine but not as much as our stuffed animals, Barbie the plastic fantastic, does have one. Brought stateside by creator Ruth Handler, Barbie’s prototype was Lilli, a German doll modeled after a cartoon floozy and marketed to men. Mattel and former Pentagon engineer Jack Ryan’s recast version—with newly shaped lips and filed-off nipples—hit America in 1959, posing as an ingenue. (See M.G. Lord’s
Forever Barbie: An Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll.) For better or worse, the makeover worked. Join Bernie Kivowitz, who left Mattel as director of sales in 1996 after over 40 years’ service, for facts and trivia on our working girl. The days of the Barbie Liberation Organization’s infamous G.I. Joe/Teen Talk Barbie voice box switch may not be over. And despite 1998’s thickened-waist-and-flattened-feet do-over and 2004’s pre–Valentine’s Day breakup with Ken and run for president, some feminists will never be fooled.

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