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  • Writer's pictureLeisel Whitlock

Unveiling the Truth: You Can't Actually Buy The Weirdest Barbie Doll


After all the recent pearl-clutching regarding the Oscar snub of Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, I’ve been thinking about one Barbie that has been overlooked for years. This led me to revisit something I wrote some time ago.


It’s been a long time since I played with Barbie, but she dominated the play scene for my single-digit years and a few doubles. Along with my Star Wars action figures, TYCO Slot Car Track (Ah, the smell of burnt rubber!), and the infinite world of make-believe, Barbie ruled. She ruled hard. Our collection included a fully furnished Dream house, Corvette, bicycle, sailboat, cruise ship, airplane, horse ranch with pony, pets, Ken, and bubbling spa. You name it, I/she probably had it.

I remember my time with Barbie fondly, so of course, I was like, yesszz when the new Barbie Movie launched. In an instant, I was back to a joyous time when friends and cousins would bring over their Barbies for a playdate with mine. Nostalgia sells. Awesome. I’m hooked. Then the advertisements for Weird Barbie started, and my joy turned a tad bitter. Either the company doesn’t understand the weird Barbie, or it has figured out that they can get away with selling you Weird Barbie instead because no one will notice. But that can’t be. Can it? Are so many of us out of touch with our imaginative faculties that we can’t tell the difference between weird Barbie and Weird Barbie? Whatever it is, I deeply protest the latter, and I’m putting Mattel on notice.



They are not the same.


The kids who create weird Barbies — may not think their Barbies are weird. I sure didn’t. She was just Barbie. However, for the purposes of communication, I’ll gladly use the term weird and celebrate the best of what the term implies. I wish more people would remember what it was like to be weird before they were shaped by the world to be compliant, dreamless, unimaginative, and (someone else’s idea of) normal.


The weird Barbie is made. The weird Barbie can never be purchased. This is the way.

When a new Barbie is purchased, an old Barbie gets her weird wings. Whenever a new Barbie arrived on the scene, I felt the urge to emancipate the older one. Why not? Making weird Barbie was too much fun to do only once. Why be limited to corporate-created boundaries handed to me with a carefully curated outfit and mirrored sunglasses. Cool, Sun Lovin’ Barbie had tan lines. She also had a buzz cut and would napkin-parachute into the tall grass forest outside my window. Fingers crossed, she didn’t land in a pile of fire ants. But that was only one weird Barbie adventure. They each had many. Some involved razor blades, others, water, and, yeah, there was that one time we played with fire. My Barbies had a lot of “mishaps,” and I created a lot of weird Barbies for the village, so I know they were each fantastically, uniquely made for me and by me. She is one of a kind every time.

 

It’s weird, Barbies, plural. There is no way weird Barbie is on her own. I’m a self-certified weird Barbie expert, so I can tell you she got a whole crew, and they run deep. Also, they all live with the “normal” purchased Barbie — or Norma, as I now call her. Who else will sew Norma’s ass up when she misses a sharp turn, tumbles down the side of Twin Bed Mountain, splits her head open, and needs emergency brain surgery. Ken? I think not. He cute but useless. And sooo dumb. No, it was always a member of the WBC (WEIRD BARBIE CREW) to the rescue to drag Norma’s mangled body out of Lego Rock Canyon, out of the quicksand, or some other mess, patch her up and send her on her way. And if she was lucky, Norma would be transformed into the newest member of the WBC.


The weird Barbies don’t “Smell Like Basement.”

They smell like scented markers, Revlon lipstick, Skin So Soft, mud, rubbing alcohol, etc., but mostly they smell like adventure and freedom. They don’t wear a uniform or a costume. Half the time, they might be naked because weird Barbies don’t have the same rules. When you belong to the WBC, you can do anything. You can be anything. The only limits are the imagination of your creator or a smoke alarm. weird Barbies are what their little weird creator decides they are, and that changes minute by minute, game by game.


You don’t plan for weird Barbie. She is not tested, mood-boarded, or carefully designed. I didn’t wake up in the morning and think, “Today I’m gonna spray paint Barbie green or peel back her soft rubber head.” I just let creativity happen, and then I would follow the ideas. That was the joy of it all. It was a spontaneous, uninhibited, and risky endeavor. There was no certainty except that I would make a ginormous mess. But a mess can be cleaned, and the adventure was always worth it. Sometimes — though hardly a necessary outcome of any creative endeavor — in return, I learned a few valuable lessons, like how to iterate on the fly, work with the materials on hand, persevere through failure, challenge assumptions, and most importantly, recognize that the only purpose of some ideas is to get you to better (or just different) ones. It’s probably the least linear process ever and one I’ve remembered to enjoy as I grew into adulthood.

 

I’m not sure how many executives, designers, or focus groups it takes to make a doll, but I know weird Barbie and Weird Barbie, the mass-produced simulacrum, ain’t her. Mattel got one thing right, though. The weird Barbie is a collectible; only Mattel didn’t create her, and she doesn’t cost $50 plus tax and shipping.

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