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Slices of Life by Jill Pertler

August 23, 2013

More than half a century of plastic romance
  A couple of messages on Facebook this week mentioned a big birthday and celebrity milestone that piqued my interest. The postings announced Barbie is 50 – and perkier than ever, thanks to the miracle of molded plastic. Since Facebook is recognized worldwide for its accuracy and birthday record-keeping expe-rtise, I decided to do my own research before putting any candles on our favorite fashion doll’s cake.

  Good thing I did, or I would have wasted a whole batch of perfectly good frosting.

  Barbie is not 50. Her official birthday (as opposed to the unofficial one) is March 9, 1959. She’s 54; and one can only assume she’s been lying about her age for at least four years. Either that, or the news on Facey is lagging.

  I have to admit, I’m okay with Barbie’s indiscretion. (Wonder if Ken knows?) Somehow it endears me to the anatomically incorrect play-scale version of Everywoman. Barbie’s always been so perfect. Throughout her numerous careers – astronaut, doctor, rock star and Miss America – she’s remained pert, thin, ever-smiling and wrinkle-free. By fudging about her age, Barbie shows she is human, just like the rest of us.  

Barbie was born/invented in 1959 to and by a mom named Ruth Handler, whose kids just happened to be named – wait for it – Barbara and Kenneth. Coincidence? I think not. Actually, more than coincidence, the name thing could be considered a little gross. Ken and Barbie were (are) romantically linked after all. Brothers and sisters aren’t supposed to… well… you know.  

When I brought this up to my husband, he said, “But, Barbie and Ken were never married. They just dated.”

  Like that has anything to do with anything.  

As it turns out, Barbie is a bit of a cougar. Ken is two years younger than her, which may help to explain her need to tweak her age downward. The lovebirds enjoyed a long-term relationship and despite the fact that Barbie purchased more than two dozen wedding dresses over the years, Ken didn’t take the hint and they never married. They’ve been an item for over five decades, save for a brief period in 2006 when Barbie had a fling with an Australian surfer dude. (True story.)  

The surfer didn’t intimidate Ken because he considered himself ocean accomplished. He’d lived for a time on the beach at Malibu and was confident in his glowing tan, perfect pecs and overall savoir-faire. He knew he’d win Barbie back.  

Ken’s real-life nemesis is G.I. Joe, who is not a doll, but an action figure with access to semi-automatic weaponry (the toy kind). Despite brief stints in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, Ken – who is recognized for his fashion-forward style and hip sense of swag – always considered himself more of a lover than a fighter. Although truly an American icon, he’s never attained the status of action figure.

  A further demoralizing tidbit: Ken was originally created as an accessory for Barbie – a trophy boyfriend, if you will. Despite these and other obstacles, after years of therapy Ken came to accept himself for groovy doll he was created to be.  

Barbie and Ken reunited in 2008 after Ken was forced to undergo a complete makeover to win back Barbie’s heart. Poor guy, next thing you know we’ll be asking him to give up his ascot collection. There’s still no wedding ring on Barbie’s finger, but a girl never gives up completely.  

I had many Barbie dolls as a child, but only one Ken. Despite his surplus of leisure suits, Barbie’s wardrobe was vastly more interesting. Even though her shoes were forever falling off her feet, her legs didn’t bend and she couldn’t fit into her own convertible, playing with Barbie provided a unique, grown-upish escapism. And, whether she’s 50 or 54, one thing’s for sure. She looks pretty darn good for her age.  


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