Monday, November 08, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie

The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact On Us. Tanya Lee Stone. 2010. October 2010. Penguin. 144 pages.

From the foreword (by Meg Cabot): When I was six, I wanted a Barbie more than I can remember ever wanting anything in my life.
From the prologue: It was a very pink year.
From chapter one: Ruth Handler looked absolutely nothing like a Barbie doll. And she did not aspire to.

Tanya Lee Stone's nonfiction book on Barbie is balanced and objective. She gives every side a voice. So you'll find those who think Barbie is evil, those who loved to destroy Barbie, mutilate her, those who strongly believe Barbie is detrimental to self-esteem. But. You'll also hear stories from those who loved Barbie. In some cases, loved, loved, loved Barbie. Stories about what they loved best about her, how they played with her, how having Barbie helped their imaginations, how Barbie is an inspiration--but not only in the way you might think!

So what should you expect from this one? A bit of history and context. A look at how Ruth Handler helped create the Mattel toy company. A look at how Ruth Handler created Barbie. Readers also learn about the dolls production through the decades. How the culture has impacted Barbie's design--everything from hair color, eye color, skin color, body design, to her clothes and other accessories. There is a whole chapter on the portrayal of race/ethnicity. Readers also learn a little bit about some of Barbie's friends and relations.

But the book goes beyond the doll and her design. The book intimately looks at how she has been played with by children everywhere. How she has been loved. How she has been hated. How she's been given hair cuts. How some have enjoyed making their own clothes for Barbie. And how others feel that only "store bought" clothes will do for their doll. Tonya Lee Stone sprinkles her text with quotes which was a nice touch.

What seems obvious to me--and maybe to you too--is that Barbie is who you want her to be. You have a large role in defining who she is. Not everyone feels that way, of course. Many would argue that there is only one "Barbie" way to be. But I'd disagree. (Perhaps the first step is to never have a Barbie named Barbie. Barbies are given life, given personality, by their owners. You are the one writing her story.)

Did I like this one? Yes and no. I found it disturbing in places. I found it ugly in places. I did NOT want to read about people taking pleasure in torturing, mutilating, abusing Barbie. But. There were places I liked it. I liked, for example, reading about how much Megan McCafferty credits Barbie for helping her develop her storytelling.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Lindsay said...

I'm looking forward to reading this book. I personally came late to the Barbie party, having been taught as a child that she was "bad", but as an adult I started turning Barbies into art, and now I'm a collector. This is definitely on my to-read list

Stephanie said...

This looks like a very interesting book! I will definitely have to keep my eye out for it.

kaye said...

I made up for lost time by continuing to play with Barbies right through my high school years...