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On the next shelf over sits Elsa in a box that invites you to press a button to hear her sing. As the doll begins to belt out the girl-power anthem “Let It Go,” children—girls and boys—come running from all directions screaming, dancing, one explaining to her mom why they need yet another variation of the Elsa doll in their house.
At a Los Angeles Target, I locate Barbie in the toy aisle, beaming down at me from her dream house (pink convertible sold separately).
At her core, she’s just a body, not a character, a canvas upon which society can project its anxieties about body image.
“Barbie has all this baggage,” says Jess Weiner, a branding If you could design Barbie today, how would you make her a reflection of the times?
“I wanted to remind myself every time I came to work about the reality of what is going on with the brand,” says Mazzocco, who has three daughters whom she uses as her “own little focus group.” Not that she needed the reminder: she routinely receives hate mail and even death threats over Barbie’s body. Her creator, Ruth Handler, based Barbie’s body on a German doll called Lilli, a prostitute gag gift handed out at bachelor parties. When Handler introduced Barbie (named after her daughter Barbara) in 1959 at the New York Toy Fair, her male competitors laughed her out of the room: nobody, they insisted, would want to play with a doll with breasts.
Still, Barbie’s sales took off, but by 1963 women were protesting the same body men had ridiculed.