Barbie Is No Superhero

Why seven-year-old girls dress their dolls in tight skirts and thongs

My wife Dawn returned home from a shopping trip last week to tell me “Sometimes I am so happy that we don’t have a little girl.” This was a stunning statement from a woman who has wanted to raise a little girl since she was a little girl.

She had just left a toy store where a woman was lamenting the choice of dolls she could buy her seven-year-old niece. The woman said, “Let’s see … I could buy her a doll that looks like a hooker, or one that looks like a stripper, or a tramp.”

Dawn said to the woman, “Oh my gosh, you’re right.” There in front of the two instant friends in a common cause were hundreds of Barbies, Bratz and other girl dolls dressed in tight clothing, mini-skirts, lingerie and low tops all designed to show off their perfect plastic assets. It was a rack of racks. Some of the Bratz dolls come complete with thong underwear.

Slowly but surely the two were joined by other women, an instant support group was formed. Minutes of the meeting were not kept, but here are the findings according to Dawn. Little boys can select an array of superheroes, construction workers, explorers, sports stars, even doctors and scientists. Little boys have miniature positive plastic role models that create dreams of success and adventure. Little girls have miniature plastic models that create dreams of visiting a cosmetic surgeon.

Now in fairness, there are career Barbies. There is a doctor, a businesswoman and even a TV news reporter. But each is still dressed in tight clothing, a mini-skirt and platform high heel shoes. And, of course, each is perfectly proportioned. They look more like actresses playing a fantasy role in some soft-porn movie than real career women.

With a quick check on the Internet, I found that my wife’s group of supporters is much bigger than either of us ever imagined. Thousands of moms Tweet, post and comment with shock and anger over the doll choices for their daughters, with Barbie getting most of the attention because of her place in toy history as an American icon.

For instance, on the site, Momof2 writes: “I’m not a fan of Barbie. My four-year-old daughter just got a Barbie for her birthday (from my sister-in-law) and the Barbie is wearing what looks like lingerie with her boobs popping out and these huge heels. She looks like a prostitute. I told my daughter that the doll wasn’t really age appropriate (though I can’t imagine when it might ever be age appropriate) and put it away.”

And Michelle posted this: “I want to know what the creators of this Barbie were thinking? Didn’t they wonder whether or not people would seriously stop buying their product? Honestly, why? Why would you create a doll for seven-year-old girls to play with that is half naked? ‘Oh hi Ken, let’s go on a date. I just slipped on my standard mini-skirt, and I’m not wearing underwear.’ … Really these people just amaze me sometimes.”

Well, Michelle, we now may know what the creator of Barbie was thinking.

Barbie was created by “a full-blown seventies-style swinger” with “a manic need for sexual gratification,” who based the doll’s design on his favorite adult dolls. This is all according to the book, Toy Monsters: The Big Bad World of Mattel.

Barbie is the brainchild of Jack Ryan, whose five wives included the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. In the book Ryan is accused of staging wild orgies at his mansion in the exclusive Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air and surrounding himself with busty prostitutes hired because of their resemblance to Barbie.

The Yale-educated executive died in 1991 at the age of 65. He allegedly used his office at the toy firm Mattel to take calls from a local “madam,” and liked to pay for sex with “everyone from high-class call girls to streetwalkers,” including “a very thin and childlike hooker.”

Author Jerry Oppenheimer claims that Ryan’s colorful sexuality played a formative role in the design of the doll. “When Jack talked about creating Barbie, it was like listening to somebody talk about a sexual episode,” Mr. Ryan’s former friend, Stephen Gnass, reveals. “It was almost like listening to a sexual pervert.”

Explains a lot doesn’t it? These revelations are certain to be brought up at the next impromptu meeting of my wife’s unofficial club now called BOOBS, for Ban the Outrageous Outfits of Barbie Society.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to