The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie

Posted April 21, 2012 by Tara in Review /// 9 Comments

Oh Barbie, you look so coy.

The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us
by Tanya Lee Stone
Viking Juvenile, 2010
Library copy from Junior Library Guild
[#36   in my 75 book challenge]

I guess you could say I was a Barbie kid. I had maybe ten Barbies and multiple outfits for each. I had Skipper and Stacie and maybe even Kelly and Krissy (I don’t remember). I had a Barbie pool, little hangers for my Barbie clothes, and lots of shoes. While I enjoyed playing with my Barbies, I never really gave Barbie much thought. But by the time I was a teenager, I was well aware that there are many Barbie lovers and Barbie haters out there. Barbie causes a lot of controversy across America, it seems, which is what intrigued me to read this book.

Stone tries to cover all things Barbie in an objective way, and this book is written for the young adult audience. I thought it did both of those things quite well, while also providing an overview for adults. I’m sure there are books out there going into crazy detail about Barbie, but I was happy with the 124 page overview. Topics and sections include:

  • History of Mattel
  • Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie
  • History of Barbie
  • Barbie as sexist/unrealistic/harmful
  • Barbie as a fashion icon
  • Barbie as a career woman
  • Multicultural Barbies
  • Mutilating/destroying Barbies
  • Sexual play with Barbies
  • Barbie in art

What I realized from my reading was that what kids think of Barbie does not seem to be the problem — it’s what adults think. Moreover, it’s what adults perceive about children’s behaviors and beliefs. A good portion of the book includes personal stories and memories that real people sent in to the author about their time with Barbies. It was interesting to see how other girls and boys felt about the doll as kids and adults in these reflections.

FINAL GRADEL:  B  This is a fascinating little book, and I’m glad it’s in my library. It’s informative and interesting, with lots of great photographs and quotes through the pages. The sexual discussions are all very tame, mostly mentioning how Barbies have no genitalia and how kids wanted Barbie and Ken to sleeping the bed together. Real Barbie enthusiasts will probably want to skip it, as I’m sure there is nothing new for them to learn. But for everyone else, I’d highly recommend it.

Did you play with Barbie as a kid? How do you feel about her now — love her, or loathe her?


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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9 responses to “The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie

  1. This looks interesting! As a certified Barbie fanatic, I am going to make sure that I get my hands on it!

    Oh and hey! would you like to be a part of The Uninspired Chronicles? 🙂

  2. This book has been on my “to-do” list for so long, so thanks for the interesting review. Its nice to hear from somebody who isn`t a collector, but doesn`t absolutely loathe this doll – whenever I do a bit of blog surfing, I get a bit freaked out by the sheer hatred that many people have for Barbie. Even though I collect and I`ve been writing a Barbie blog for a year, Ive always sat on the fence regarding the whole “is Barbie harmful to girls?” argument. I`ve started to form some opinions recently, and I`m planning to write some posts about it, sooner or later. I see in your review that this book has some discussion about Barbie as sexist and also about torture play, so I will probably try to read it before I do. Best wishes 🙂

  3. This sounds like a really interesting book – a lot of my PhD research has been on how popular culture and gender interact, so from that point of view I think it’d be a fascinating read. I had a few Barbies when I was young, and mostly I used them to make up stories and adventures (quite often with whatever other action figures my brother and I had lying around). At the time I didn’t pay too much attention to the body politics of it all, but I find it interesting now as an adult. Great review!

  4. I’m intrigued as to what she said about destroying Barbie. I use to do that as a kid…I’m not going to become some psycho mass murderer am I?

  5. Was blog hopping when I found your charming little blog – I absolutely love the blog title. 🙂 This seems so fascinating. I was never really into barbies; but the whole idea of how adults perceive childhood toys is intriguing. Nice review, I am going to try and get my hands on this one!
    Happy reading!

  6. Great review–glad to know this book is out there. As for me, I grew up before Barbie was on the market. My daughter thought Barbies were pretty lame after she was about 7 years old–but she still kept them displayed on a bookshelf in her room until she was in about her junior year of high school. The only negative thing I think about Barbies is that they influence a lot of young women to think they had to have a body just like that–and did damage to their health, as a result.

  7. For one of my classes, we have to study Popular Culture and my class is mainly looking at Barbie. This book will be perfect in helping me write an essay for my exams. I can’t wait to read it 🙂 thankyou!

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