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Top Controversial Barbie Dolls: From Race Relations to Pregnant Teens, Mattel's Barbie Mishaps Over the Last 50 Years

By Edited Oct 2, 2015 3 9

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.  

Controversial Barbie: Oreo Fun Barbie

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.

Pregnant Midge Do

Pregnant Midge Barbie Doll
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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

Controversial Barbie Doll: Totally Tattoos

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.

Tokidoki Barbie

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

Controversial Barbie Doll: Sleepytime Gal

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.

Ruth & Elliot Handler Interview - The Inventors of Barbie

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Comments

May 16, 2012 2:13am
Misskate
As simple as it is, a doll that is. I think Barbie really did change alot of things in society. The images and such little girls see and want to be in know known as the "Barbie Image". Interesting article.
May 16, 2012 4:14am
tkmcdonald
Wow. Who knew there was that much controversy with Barbie Dolls. Great Story.
May 16, 2012 5:13am
askformore
Another controversy was the dispute between Mattel and the Scandinavia Pop Group who had a great International hit with the song: "I am a Barbie Girl - In a Plastic World". Mattel tried to stop it, because they claimed that Barbie was a nice girl who wouldn't accept Ken's line: Hey Barbie, wanna go for a ride? LOL Mattel lost! And Aqua's Barbie even sang that "you can undress me and touch me everywhere".
May 16, 2012 7:21am
JadeDragon
That is the dumbest song yet it contains so much commentary on modern society.

Life in plastic, it's fantastic! (mocking the California plastic surgery culture and fakeness in general)

do whatever you please, I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees (mocking girls who seek attention from boys "on their knees" sexually)

let us do it again, fool around, let's go party. (mocking plastic girls again)

You can touch, you can play, if you say: "I'm always yours" (dating advice for guys interested in plastic girls)
May 16, 2012 9:58am
mommymommymommy
What a great article! There was a controversy about ten years ago when a rocker Barbie doll had a nose ring. They were taken off the shelves and those are highly collectible, too.
May 16, 2012 11:34am
toebunkers
Wow I never knew Barbie was so controversial!
May 17, 2012 10:36am
Ascentive
I remember the Barbie Song from Aqua too. I was a huge hit in Europe. It was played in full length without any buzzes.
I also remember the pregnant Barbie or Steffi Love doll when I was living in Germany. I actually think that was in the late 90's. The pregnant Barbie or Steffi is still popular as of today.

~Anja~
Feb 28, 2013 8:16pm
KCAllen
Orea Fun Barbie...oh lord that's pretty bad.
Jan 27, 2014 12:45am
Yindee
What an interesting feature! I was surprised about the Bald Barbie and breast cancer. I will link my story on cancer to this one because of the belief system. You have shown how far it has gone now, to even intimidate little girls about their seemingly inevitable fate.

Perhaps we shoulf give them Angelina Jolie Barbie dolls without breasts to really drive the message home. How sick and sad this world is. A Barbie with a basket of fresh fruit and vegetables would take a better stand against cancer. At least include the oranges, because citrus pectin helps to stop the spread of cancer to other places.
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Bibliography

  1. "Pregnant doll pulled from Wal-Mart after customers complain." USA Today. 10/4/2012 <Web >
  2. "Mattel Says It Erred; Teen Talk Barbie Turns Silent on Math." The New York Times. 10/4/2012 <Web >
  3. "Beautiful and Bald Barbie!." Beautiful and Bald Barbie!. 10/4/2012 <Web >
  4. "Mattel to manufacture bald Barbie doll." CBS News. 10/4/2012 <Web >
  5. "Bald Barbie Blog Brings Controversy." KCCI. 10/4/2012 <Web >

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