Everyone knows Barbie. She was my childhood idol. I wanted to have long blonde hair like hers, a shape like hers, and shoes like hers. I'm still waiting for my pink convertable and dream home like hers too.
There are some special ironies about Barbie that could endear you to her forever. And, for some of you, you may have new found appreciation for Barbie's curves.
You see, "Barbie" was the creation of Ruth Handler. She and her husband Elliot, along with their friend Harold Matson began a company called Mattel. They combined their names together to form the name of their venture.
Originally Mattel made wooden picture frames. Elliot began fashioning doll houses from left over pieces of wood. Watching this business in transition and wanting to contribute, Ruth Handler decided to produce the first ever full-figure doll for little girls. Up to that point the only dolls on the market were baby dolls. Ruth felt that little girls should be comfortable with their changing physical bodies - and she wanted them to dream about exciting futures. She lovingly named the first doll "Barbie" after her daughter Barbara. (later a boy doll would be called Ken after Ruth's son)
Women's rights groups slammed Ruth's creation calling it offensive and disrespectful. The womanly shape shocked many who saw it as promiscuous. And yet, little girls LOVED the dolls - so much so that Mattel ranked in the top 500 American businesses within the first 5 years. Soon the dolls were the rage internationally as well. Young lassies would dress up the dolls, redress them, accessories them and play out real life adventures - girls dreamed about their future roles and identities through those dolls. Barbie had clothing for every season, sport and career, as well as campers, boats and housing. She was a huge success - a trendsetter.
But that's not the most interesting or inspiring part of the story. Certainly not the most ironic part of the story.
Years past and Elliot and Ruth Handler sold their very successful business. Ruth became ill. She had breast cancer. Now go figure the irony. The woman who made the first doll with breasts - had breast cancer.
Was it a curse for some energetic blasphemy against the female anatomy? Or was she just the person God needed to brave the topic?
Ruth Handler created a new product. She created one of the first prostetics for women recovering from masectomies. Her new company "Nearly Me" fashioned the first comfortable, natural-looking breast prostetics in familiar bra sizes. Her insights into what females needed for their own self-acceptance and self-esteem inspired "Barbie" - AND ironically breast prostetics.
Ruth passed away in 1991 of cancer. Barbie lives on. The next time you hear someone criticize Barbie and those womanly curves or presume that the visionary was shallow - share with them the real story and let them be inspired instead. The value of Barbie makes perfect sense to a woman who fears she has lost herself but ends up blessed by the same visionary's final creation.