August 08, 2023

Film & TV

Forbidden chapters of 'Don't Eat' diet book to pregnant midge doll

Debunking dark secrets of Barbies enduring appeal

By Samantha David August 08, 2023
Chilling history of Barbies troubling past.
Chilling history of Barbie's troubling past.

It's been 60 years since Barbie first sashayed into our lives, leaving an indelible mark on popular culture. Now is the perfect time to take a stroll down memory lane and explore the enigmatic history of this iconic doll. 

Created by the visionary American businesswoman Ruth Handler and released on March 9, 1959, Barbie has undoubtedly won the hearts of millions worldwide.

Behind the shimmering glamour and endless pink, there's a treasure trove of controversies that have surrounded this timeless toy since its inception.

Sinister Beginnings of Barbie

Diving into the backstory of everyone's favourite fashionista, Barbie! While she's now synonymous with playful childhood memories, you might be surprised to learn that her origins trace back to a rather mysterious and adult-themed past.

Step back in time to the 1940s in Germany, where the seeds of Barbie's creation were sown in the form of a seductive post-war pin-up named Bild Lilli. Drawn by the talented Reinhard Beuthien, this saucy comic strip character captured the hearts and imaginations of readers across the nation. With her irresistible charm and ability to captivate men, Bild Lilli quickly became a cultural sensation.

Fast forward to the 1950s, and the quirky pin-up had gained such popularity that she transcended the pages of comic strips to be brought to life in the form of a gag gift doll. 

Barbie's "Oreo Fun" Went Awry

Keep your eyes peeled for that one crazy cookie.
Keep your eyes peeled for that one crazy cookie.

It was the year 1997, and Mattel, the geniuses behind Barbie, decided to spice things up with a cookie-inspired doll. "Oreo Fun" Barbie hit the shelves, clad in a dress adorned with delightful images of Oreo cookies. A sweet idea, right? Well, not exactly...

As it turned out, nobody at Mattel seemed to be familiar with a rather unfortunate racial slur associated with the word "Oreo." Uh-oh! Cue the collective gasp of surprise when they discovered the unintended connotations attached to their cookie-themed creation.

But wait, the cookie saga doesn't end there! Recognizing their mistake, Mattel tried to make amends by releasing an African-American version of the "Oreo Fun" Barbie later that year. Unfortunately, this only seemed to compound the issue, as the doll's packaging, still covered in pictures of Oreo cookies, struck a chilling note.

'Don't Eat' Diet Doll to Body Positivity Icon

“Her curvy figure and arched eyebrows were controversial then and Barbie’s figure is still controversial today!” says Britten
 “Her curvy figure and arched eyebrows were controversial then and Barbie’s figure is still controversial today!” says Britten

A little-known chapter in Barbie's history - a time when she sported bathroom scales and a diet book. 

In 1965, the Slumber Party Barbie doll made a memorable entrance, but not without some eyebrow-raising additions. Imagine unboxing your Barbie and discovering not just a silk pyjama outfit and cute hair accessories, but also a set of bathroom scales, pre-set at 110lbs, and a tiny, alarming booklet with "How to lose weight" emblazoned on the cover and "Don't eat" written on the back. 

Nowadays, we're all about celebrating diversity and body positivity, but back then, Barbie had her fair share of outrageous moments. In 1963, she came as a teenaged "babysitter" doll, accompanied by a minuscule diet book with the succinct title, "Don't Eat." 

Curious Case of Pregnant Midge

Barbie's best friend, Midge - is a doll character that's left quite an impression on the toy world. She first made her debut back in 1963, marketed as Barbie's loyal and ever-supportive best friend.

Midge returned in a new avatar in 2003 that took everyone by surprise. Enter the "Happy Family" collection, where Mattel unleashed Pregnant Midge, a nine-month pregnant version of the familiar doll! Complete with a removable "belly" cover and a tiny, plastic newborn snuggled inside, this doll was meant to let little girls experience the joy of welcoming a new sibling into the family.

While Mattel saw it as a wholesome way to encourage imaginative play, moms had a different reaction. Some found the concept a tad unsettling and, dare we say, a bit creepy. Walmart even decided to remove Pregnant Midge from its shelves after customers raised concerns, as reported by CBS. 

Puberty Doll of the '70s

The quirky Tale of Growing Up Skipper.
The quirky Tale of 'Growing Up Skipper.'

Mattel once dared to venture into the realm of puberty education with a doll that left us both intrigued and bewildered. Say hello to Growing Up Skipper, the doll that took "growing up" to a whole new level!

Imagine having a doll that could magically grow - pull out her arms, and she'd shoot up an inch or two taller, simulating the growth spurts that come hand in hand with adolescence. But wait, there's more! Hold your breath for the controversial twist - her chest grew too! Yes, you read that right!

While some found it fascinating and educational, others couldn't help but find it a bit... strange. 

Yet, nostalgia has a way of turning once controversial into vintage treasures! If you're feeling a pang of curiosity or a wave of nostalgia, you can still find these peculiar puberty dollies on eBay, fetching around $80 - a testament to the enduring allure of vintage toys.

Oops, Math You Barbie-n't Say That

A chirpy Barbie doll, programmed to say an array of cheerful phrases like "Do you have a crush on anyone?" and "I'll always be here to help you." All seemed innocent and sweet until Barbie's mouth got her into trouble with one unfortunate phrase - "Math class is tough!" Uh-oh, Barbie, you might want to double-check your script!

The American Association of University Women, not amused by the implication, politely asked Mattel to give 'Teen Talk' a makeover in the language department.

Jill Barad, the president of the toy company at the time, swiftly issued an apology, saying, "In hindsight, the phrase math class is tough, while correct for many students both male and female, should not have been included. We didn't fully consider the potentially negative implications of this phrase."