Controversy began with the first Barbie doll and often increases a Barbie doll's value.
From her first appearance at the 1959 New York toy show, Barbie has created controversy. Barbie was created and designed by Ruth Handler, a woman who defied social norms of the 1930s and choose to pursue a career before starting a family. With her husband and family friend they started a small toy business they named Mattel in the 1940s.
Ruth spent many years designing Barbie and Barbie’s story of being woman with it all, a career, boyfriend, and a sense of fashion. She named Barbie after her daughter and later Ken after her son. But Barbie’s 1959 debut was not a hit. Since Barbie didn’t look like the baby dolls kids played with at the time, Barbie was a tough sell. More than 50 years later, Barbie has shown to have appealed to the masses, from kids to collectors, despite her rocky beginning and many controversial releases of Barbie and her friends since then. And that first release of Barbie is now worth thousands.
Here are some of the most controversial Barbie dolls, which ironically also are some of the most sought after by Barbie doll collectors.
Oreo Fun Barbie Doll
Two versions of Oreo Fun Barbie were made in the 1990s. One was white and one was black, and there lies the controversy. Oreo Fun Barbie was meant to be a marketing partnership with Oreo cookies. The intention was to promote Oreo cookies as an afternoon snack while playing with Barbie. The marketing execs must not have tested the idea with the consumers they were targeting however, as “oreo” can be a derogatory term for African-Americans. Mattel ended up taking back a lot of unsold dolls. Oreo Fun Barbie is often credited with being the most controversial of Barbie dolls. Guess which one is today more valuable to Barbie doll collectors? Yes, the black version.
Teen Talk Barbie
In the early 1990s, Mattel made Barbie high tech to compete with other computerized talking toys. Teen Talk Barbie has a computer chip that selects from 269 phrases. The original had 270 phrases. The phrase, “Math class is tough!” was cut after complaints from parents and the American Association of University Women. Since each Teen Talk Barbie only used four of the 270 possible phrases, finding a working Barbie that claims “Math is Tough!” today would be a rare find.
Butterfly Art Tattoo Barbie
Mattel’s first attempt at inking Barbie did not go over well in the late 1990s. Butterfly Art Barbie, with her crocheted mid-drift bearing top and mini skirt came with temporary tattoos for Barbie and child. Mattel pulled these controversial Barbie dolls from shelves just a few months after she was released because of parental complaints. Despite the recall and many parents refusing to buy such a doll, plenty sold and are now easily found on eBay. So many that they are of little financial value to Barbie doll collectors, but still make an interesting addition.ll
As of 2012, Barbie has yet to marry and have a family of her own. Probably too busy with her many careers. Her friend Midge did have a baby in 2002. The baby is stuffed inside Midge’s stomach and covered with a removable pregnant belly. Some parents thought Midge was a teenager and did not approve, despite the fact that Pregnant Midge had a husband and 3-year-old son (sold separately). The newborn was her second child. WalMart removed pregnant Midge from store shelves just before Christmas. To appease parents, Mattel redesigned pregnant Midge’s packaging to show pictures of her husband and older child standing next to pregnant Midge, and added a wedding ring.
Growing Up Skipper
Everyone must grow up sometime, including Barbie’s little sister Skipper. In the mid 1970s, Mattel targeted the pre-teen market with Growing Up Skipper. Kids can make Skipper grow taller and more mature. She develops an hourglass shape complete with a trimmer waist and growing breasts. This didn’t go over well with more conservative parents.
Totally Stylin Tattoos Barbie
In 2009, Mattel once again tested the acceptance of body art with Totally Tattoos Barbie. She came with a variety of tattoos that kids can put anywhere on Barbie. The heart with Ken’s name tattoo fits best on Barbie’s lower back, thus her nickname of Tramp Stamp Barbie. You can buy Tramp Stamp…err… Totally Stylin Tattoos Barbie on Amazon and at national toy retailers. This time Mattel seems to have learned to use controversy as part of its marketing of Barbie and no recalls have been issued.
Designed by Tokidoki and released in 2011 as a collectors doll (not a child’s toy), the Tokidoki Barbie doll has been controversial and a hit with collectors. Sparkling silver stiletto heels and pink hair are not the cause of the controversy. It’s the artistic tattoos that cover most of her back, arm, and neck. This doll original sold for $50 and it sold out quickly. Just a year later in 2012, you had to shell out over $300 to get one of these collector’s edition Barbies.
Sleepytime Gal Barbie
The 1960s Sleepytime Gal Barbie looks innocent enough. She’s fully clothed in classy pink pajamas and covered by a pink robe. The problem was the accessories that included a scale set to 110 pounds and the how to lose weight book she came with. The back of the book says, “Don’t eat.”
Bald and Beautiful Barbie
Not even in production in early 2012 and Bald Barbie had sparked controversy without any help from Mattel. The push to create a bald Barbie started on Facebook by two women affected by cancer. According to their Beautiful and Bald Barbie Facebook page, they wanted a doll for kids “to help young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, alopecia or trichotillomania. Also, for young girls who are having trouble coping with their mother's hair loss from chemo.”
Bald Barbie joined the ranks of controversial Barbie dolls when a spokesman for the American Cancer Society publically criticized the idea of bald Barbie in a blog by asking, “Do we need one more thing whose function is to 'raise awareness' about cancer?” The spokesman quickly apologized and Mattel is set to launch a bald friend for Barbie that comes with wigs, hats, and scarves. As of early 2012, Mattel only plans to donate the dolls rather than sell them in stores. The Beautiful and Bald Barbie group is pushing to make them available for sale in stores.
Love her or hate her, either way controversial Barbie dolls have not harmed sales, and likely helped sales. Controversial Barbies, especially those that are recalled, tend to increase in value. The more controversy or quicker the recall, the more interest they bring to Barbie fans.