Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll

Liveright: Norton. Mar. 2024. 336p. ISBN 9781324095071. pap. $18.95. SOC SCI
Lord (English, Univ. of Southern California; The Accidental Feminist) cohosts the LA Made: The Barbie Tapes podcast. The reissue of her 1994 release includes a new preface that examines the renewed impact of Barbie on pop culture after the blockbuster release of Greta Gerwig’s 2023 film. The author explores Ruth Handler’s creation against the backdrop of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, the heteronormative male gaze, and societal expectations. Handler’s career at Mattel, subsequent financial scandal, and emergence as a premier innovator of breast prostheses is also covered. Barbie spinoffs, including Ken and Skipper, are given their due diligence, which waxes nostalgic for readers who may remember Barbie Loves McDonald’s, Great Shape Barbie, or Day-to-Night Barbie. The book covers the doll’s creation, debut, and potential competitors. The merchandizing is impressive: games, books, magazines, and films are only part of the licensing reach. She discusses the role Barbie played in offering a variety of dolls that raised awareness about race, women beauty standards, eating disorders, and more. Her book includes updates on the doll’s change to utilize more environmentally positive plastics.
VERDICT This thorough, consideration of the Barbie world is as relevant now as it was 30 years ago.
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