March 9, 2009
(Amerigo Vespucci, the Prophet Mohammad, and Barbie at 50)
Today’s a big day for holidays.
March 9, 2009 is the start of Purim in the Jewish calendar. It begins at sundown.
In the Sunni Muslim calendar, March 9, 2009 is Mawlid al Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad.
The second Monday in March is also the holiday formerly known as British Commonwealth Day (now just “Commonwealth Day”) across the former British Empire.
March 9 is the birthday of America. Or rather the birthday of its namesake Amerigo Vespucci. The mapmaker was born on this day in 1454.
But most important, March 9, 2009 is the 50th birthday of the Barbie doll.
+ + +
The Barbie doll, conceived by Ruth Handler in the late 1950’s, has been mass-produced 800 million times since March 9, 1959. That means, if there were a country solely inhabited by Barbie and her pals, it would be the third most populous nation on Earth.
I had the opportunity to meet the “real” Barbie — the doll’s namesake, Ruth Handler’s daughter Barbara — many years ago at a friend’s Bar Mitzvah. I remember being disillusioned that she had red hair at the time. As she has had to explain on countless occasions, “I am the name behind it, but I’m not the doll, you know…It was never made to look like me.” (The Oprah Winfrey Show)
The lack of life-like dolls for Ruth Handler’s daughter to play with once inspired the Barbie doll’s creation. However, by the time the doll came out in 1959, Barbara was 17, a Hamilton High School student in Los Angeles, California, long past the age of playing with dolls. She once told People Magazine, “Much of me is very proud that my folks invented the doll. I just wish I wasn’t attached to it.” (People Magazine, March 6, 1989)
Mattel received criticism from women’s groups in recent decades regarding the unrealistic bodily proportions of the doll, and the effect this had on young girls’ self-esteem and body image. In the last few years, Barbie sales have taken a hit, largely due to competition from the newer Bratz Dolls, created by former Mattel employee Carter Bryant. The top-heavy Bratz Dolls have also come under fire in recent weeks for their alleged effect on girls’ self-image, a controversy (ingeniously) exposed by the Onion News Network: