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Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll Paperback – March 1, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The original "Barbie," an 111/2 fashion model doll with an hourglass figure, was introduced to the American public in 1959 and has been a bestseller ever since. In this witty and perceptive study Lord, a columnist for New York Newsday, chronicles Barbie's history and her relevance as a cultural icon. Ruth Handler, co-owner of Mattel Toys, modeled Barbie on a sexy plastic German pin-up that was sold to men in tobacco shops. The popularity of Barbie and her ever-expanding wardrobe with preteen girls led to the development of "Ken" and "Midge" dolls and a line of African American fashion dolls. Lord's comprehensive research includes interviews with toy-makers, an eclectic group of Barbie collectors, visual artists and feminists who disagree on Barbie's impact on young girls. The author sees Barbie, whose careers have included surgeon, pilot and astronaut, as a female role model, and credits her childhood play with Barbie as helping her cope with her own mother's mastectomy. Illustrations.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

If you think Barbie is just a child's plaything, you'll think again after reading this fascinating, funny, and far-reaching biography of the pointy-breasted, slim-waisted, high-arched gal who changed the way we think about dolls and ourselves. Lord, who writes for Newsday, approaches the story like an investigative reporter. She unearths Barbie's low origins as Lili, a slutty doll sold to German men as a gag gift, and goes on to cover the Barbie story on numerous fronts: creative, commercial, and sociological. She interviews Barbie's designers, critics, collectors, even a woman who has undergone more than 50 cosmetic surgeries so she can look like a Barbie doll. Feminist thinkers including Camille Paglia, Betty Friedan, and Susan Faludi also weigh in with opinions. No doubt about it: Barbie is a gal who engenders intense feelings. As Lord puts it, "For every mother that embraces Barbie . . . there is another mother who tries to banish Barbie from the house." Cheerleaders, career women, bulimics, and mythmakers can all hang their hats--with justification--on Barbie's well-coiffed head. Lord, for example, makes a convincing case that Barbie is a pagan symbol, a queen surrounding herself with such drones as the penis-less Ken. We can buy that easily enough, but when Lord describes Barbie as "an incarnation of the One Goddess with a thousand names . . . an archetype of something ancient, matriarchal, and profound," she might be going just a wee bit over the top. For less high-minded readers, who just like Barbie as a doll, Lord lists almost every Barbie ever marketed, from Day-to-Night Barbie to Barbie Loves McDonalds to Gymnast Barbie, who's flexible body was capable of all sorts of workouts. The photographs are terrific, too, especially, the close-up of the original Barbie with her sly eyes and arched brows. Forever Barbie is better than most biographies of real people. What a doll! Ilene Cooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (March 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802776949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802776945
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #795,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

M. G. Lord is a cultural critic and investigative journalist. She is the author of the widely praised books Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science, a family memoir about Cold War aerospace culture, and "Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll." Her latest book is "The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice."

"For MG Lord, it's curvaceous, charismatic icons of femininity that hold her imagination hostage...What Lord did for Barbie, she now does for La Liz in 'The Accidental Feminist'...Lord takes her readers on a chronological journey through the actress's signal performances, analyzing each film with a theory scholar's eye for telling detail, brightened with bloggerly brio, emotion, and use of the first person...When watching her significant films in succession, you see that, as Lord maintains, each serves as a cinematic Rorschach of social changes percolating through postwar society, in which Taylor stars as the protean blot...With 'The Accidental Feminist,' MG Lord makes the intriguing case that for Elizabeth Taylor, too much as never enough--not for the woman, not for the actress and not for the society that produced the theater of her life." The New York Times

With Shannon Halwes, Lord is also co-writing the libretto for composer Laura Karpman's "One-Ten," an opera commissioned by the L. A. Opera about the 110 Freeway on its 70th anniversary. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review and that paper's Arts & Leisure section, and her work has also appeared in such publications as Travel + Leisure, Discover, Vogue, the Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, and The New Yorker. A graduate of Yale, Lord was for twelve years a syndicated political cartoonist and columnist based at Newsday. She teaches in the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is not a "pro-Barbie" book, or an "anti-Barbie" book. It is an exploration of all aspects of Barbie the author finds significant. Topics include:
The history of Barbie's creation, her marketing and engineering by Mattel.
The differences between male and female executives in handling of the Barbie line.
Ruth Handler, Barbie's creator, and other prominent women in Barbie's life such as Charlotte Johnson, who designed her clothes in the early years, Judy Shackelford, Mattel's first female vice president, and Jill Barad, the marketing director & later Mattel COO, who pioneered the "We Girls Can Do Anything" advertising campaign in 1984.
A history of Barbie and ethnic identity (unfortunately someone had clipped pages out of this chapter in the library copy I read, so I can't say too much about it.)
Explorations of symbolic, sexual, & psychological meanings of the doll.
I found this book fascinating. A very enjoyable read. While it explores both the positive and negative views women have had of Barbie, I especially enjoyed the positive, including Barbie's history as a single independent career woman, the powerful career women involved in her creation, manufacture, & marketing over the years, and the somewhat fanciful but enjoyable discussion of her as a mythical archetype of the feminine.
I like when this book ventures into realms of the bizarre, like the exploration of Barbie's image in the context of fetishism and pornography. I suppose some people might be disturbed or offended by this, however.
I was frustrated by the lack of a list of illustrations, since photographs appear throughout the text, & are often mentioned later in the book. It's hard to go back and find the picture she's talking about.
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Format: Paperback
Though I read the book because I was interested in the subject matter and was doing research for a writing project of my own, what really struck me here was the talent of the writer. M.G. Lord is a rare combination for a writer. She has both the mechanics and the heart down-pat: She can construct a sentence or turn a phrase like nobody's business, AND she digs into and presents the most relevant content with good judgment. The broad array of cultural references at the tip of her consciousness alone is quite impressive. I enjoyed the book, and even laughed often at the edgy humor.
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Format: Paperback
On the one hand, this is an impressively researched book written with humor and intelligence. I'd love to see a new edition tracking some of the more recent developments in Barbie's empire. But some of Ms. Lord's arguments drift unpersuasively far into psycho-sexual realms. When she used an obscure 43 minute 1987 documentary as her three-page focus for the conflicting causes of eating disorders, she completely lost me.
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Format: Hardcover
Barbie owners must add this book to round out any collections. It's the story of the dolls creation, that she was actually modeled after a German doll which was sold as a gag gift for men. I'll let the reader continue that story themselves.

The history of our beloved doll actually mirrors societies changes, for better or worse, in fact she represents a social history of every notable era since her creation. Barbie Forever was a fascinating read, it hooked me from the start.

I still have my original bubble haired Barbie, I'm not a collector yet I still log on at times to her number one web sit just to view new dolls. So it stands to say I wanted to read the book, finished it in three days.

Great book!!!!!
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Format: Paperback
This book isn't the next _war and peace_ nor was meant to be. Just like that dude J. Alfred Prufrock, it's good for swelling a crowd, and giving you something less-embarassing than watch television to do when you want to just relax. Analyzing pop culture, learning obscure facts about something I am vaguely ashamed of myself for being interested in in the first place . . . mmmmmmmm, pass the oreo ice cream, please. The author definitely shares my sheepish fascination with Barbie. His/her(?) text explores many aspects of our relationship with Barbie - as children, parents, adult women, queers, artists, etc., as well as a lot of very interesting background info on how she was created, the company who has promoted her over the years, and the toy industry in general. Holding my interest *without* getting so serious that I wished the book had come with a discussion section that met once a week, _Forever Barbie_ was like a long, interesting cultural-analysis chat with an amusing girlfriend. I would read it again in a few years or recommend it to friends . . .
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Format: Kindle Edition
Forever Barbie by M.G. Lord, a Kindle book I started reading on August 9th. I was in a bind about if I should read a non-fiction biography or a sociological/social commentary book. .... Bingo.

This book's writing style is surprisingly cheeky and really well-documents Barbie's physical and occupational changes to the times, right down to the rotation of her torso in 1967 and the examples of pseudosexual accessories that Barbie used vs Ken's (i.e. Barbie's boxy purses with bananas spilling out of it as 'Suburban Shopper' vs Ken's slim electric shaver, long baseball bat, and backyard BBQ ensemble with a barbeque fork skewering a plastic weenie). The book also compares Barbie as a conduit of feminism to young girls and describes the lives and careers of people who worked to promote and construct Barbie as a doll and cultural mainstay.

The only faults that this book has is maybe going too deep/Freudian/fertility goddess, going on and on about company lawsuits and mergers, emphasis on Barbie performance and conceptual art, and bopping back and forth nauseatingly between time periods.
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