Barbie: from dream house to White House?

July 29, 1992|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

She has a better military record than Bill Clinton or Dan Quayle, more foreign experience than George Bush and as environmentally friendly an image as Al Gore. She's been an astronaut, a doctor, a teacher, a pilot, a journalist and even an ambassador.

So why can't the "Barbie for President" campaign get any respect?

Could it be that she can be bought for $20? That it's hard to run for anything, much less office, if your feet are permanently stuck in the high-heel position? That in these times of "family values" she has an ill-defined but decidedly non-marital friendship with Ken? That she has a plastic personality and, if she were as tall as a real woman, her measurements would be 36-18-33?

Still, since politics increasingly is about packaging, perhaps it was inevitable that Barbie would become a candidate. Marketed in various guises since 1959 -- depending on the Zeitgeist of the times, she's been a nurse or a doctor, a stewardess or an astronaut -- this special edition "Barbie for President" package (doll, business suit, inaugural gown, briefcase and campaign button) is available exclusively at Toys R Us.

"If there was ever a symbol that this is the year of the woman in politics," says Jane Danowitz, executive director of the Women's Campaign Fund, "that doll is it."

Ms. Danowitz, whose group raises real money for real candidates, laughingly welcomes Barbie into a growing sisterhood of office-seekers this year, what with 18 women running for the Senate and 153 for the House.

"[Barbie's candidacy] wouldn't have been possible without a Barbara Mikulski or an Ann Richards coming before her," Ms. Danowitz says. "It is, in its own way, a positive thing. It's educating another generation to the concept that a woman can be president."

Besides, she says, a Barbie presidency would give the doll a reason to dump that sissy pink car for a limo and her dream house for the White House.

"The only question is: Is she old enough?" Ms. Danowitz wonders.

Barbie's age, like many other things about her -- political affiliation, hometown and even last name -- is open to speculation. Although she entered the world in 1959, she arrived as a teen-ager (and a highly developed one at that) rather than as a baby, making her somewhere in her late 40s today.

Barbie went through a time -- still going on, in some ways -- during which she was viewed as a dangerousicon of bimbosity, a contributor to the eating disorders and poor body image of entire generations of women. The same mothers who didn't want their sons to play with guns didn't want their daughters playing with Barbie.

Yet, in recent years, she has undergone a revision of sorts -- call her the Comeback Kid -- as she has taken on various professions from rock singer to business woman. She's been an officer of the Army, Navy and Marines and was an astronaut even before Sally Ride. Plus, she has remained steadfastly independent: Despite Ken's constant hanging around, and any number of wedding dresses, Barbie remains single.

Additionally, Barbie isn't afraid to take tough political stances: In 1990, she suggested in a commercial that the world would be a better place if "we could keep the trees from falling, keep the eagles soaring." Which resulted in a Northwest logging group decrying her role in the "preservationists' radical agenda."

Still, there's no getting around the issue of Barbie's frivolous wardrobe. Her campaign suit, for example, is red with gold trim and worn over a see-through blouse.

As for why Barbie dresses this way, Karen Caviale, publisher of the collectors magazine, Barbie Bazaar, has this simple explanation: "She's a doll. You have to keep this in perspective."

While Barbie's constituency is vast -- some 700 million dolls have sold in 100 countries, and a Barbie will sell every half-second this year, according to Mattel -- it unfortunately is not of voting age. Mattel says her "voters" are generally 3 to 8 years old.

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