Barbie Doll Collection Visits Musée des Arts Décoratifs Paris Some 700 Barbie dolls are visiting Paris this summer. They span almost six decades of pretty, plastic history, including Malibu Barbie, astronaut Barbie, and, of course, Royal Canadian Mountie Barbie.
NPR logo

Bonjour, Barbie! An American Icon Packs Her Heels And Heads To France

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/490948248/491311816" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Bonjour, Barbie! An American Icon Packs Her Heels And Heads To France

Bonjour, Barbie! An American Icon Packs Her Heels And Heads To France

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/490948248/491311816" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the blonde bombshell from America is having her day in Paris right now. She's glamorous, unusually well-dressed, almost 60 and very quiet. This gal has her own exhibition right now at the Louvre Palace in Paris. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg takes us there.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: It's the Barbie doll. That's right - Barbie at the Louvre. Sacre bleu. As a '70s feminist, I have always disparaged that doll, a wasp-waisted clothes-horse sex pot. But I just spent a vacation morning in Paris at the Arts Decoratifs museum because I knew I would hear this from visitors.

JEANNE: Barbie, Barbie, Barbie.

STAMBERG: Jeanne is 8. So is Capucine. Capucine has 32 Barbie dolls plus a Barbie horse.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).

JEANNE: (Speaking French).

CAPUCINE: (Speaking French).

STAMBERG: Up elegant marble stairs, past pink walls, onto a pink carpet, into the lavish exhibition.

This is a barrage of Barbies, 700 of them in various outfits - in one case, a few naked Barbies.

And three new ones with today shapes.

ANNE MONIER: One of them is curvier - so bigger legs. One of them is shorter. And one of them is much more taller and thinner.

STAMBERG: Anne Monier is curator of the museum's toy department.

MONIER: And it tells us that today, beauty is also about diversity. And today, you cannot give a child one doll and say, this is a beautiful doll. You need to show the child different models of beauty so that they can pick the one that they want to identify with.

STAMBERG: There are almost as many choices as Barbie has handbags.

MONIER: You can have 27 colors of hair, 14 colors of skin. And everything is Barbie.

STAMBERG: She says kids usually pick the curvier ones - wider waist with blue hair. Sure, Barbie's changed over the years. But why bring this pointy-breasted, perpetually smiling, tippy-toeing missy to Paris?

MONIER: She is the embodiment of every changes of society. You can see that between 1959 and today, Barbie has evolved a lot.

STAMBERG: Monier thinks she has come a long way since 1971's Malibu Barbie.

MONIER: (Laughter) She has had so many jobs. At first, she was a flight attendant, a nurse, an office clerk...

STAMBERG: A cheerleader, a Royal Canadian Mountie, a dentist, a dominatrix. Really? Well, a Marlene Dietrich type - black-knit stockings, long gloves, come-hither stare, sitting backwards seductively on a chair. An Army Barbie in 1965, an astronaut Barbie.

MONIER: She was the first on the moon.

STAMBERG: Four years ahead of Neil Armstrong. So many jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

KRISTEN WIIG: All I've ever had are jobs. I've been a nurse, a stewardess, an astronaut.

STAMBERG: When Kristin Wiig played her on "Saturday Night Live," Barbie was unabashed about her unstable job history.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WIIG: I got fired from all of them.

SETH MEYERS: Why do you think that is?

WIIG: Almost, if not every, job requires elbows.

(LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: She's run for president of the United States.

MONIER: Yes.

STAMBERG: Did she ever win?

MONIER: No. But she's also running this year.

STAMBERG: (Laughter) And how is she dressed this year?

MONIER: (Laughter).

STAMBERG: As Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

MONIER: (Laughter) If the competition is about hair style, I think she might win.

STAMBERG: Ruth Handler certainly won big when she created Barbie in 1959. She had noticed that young girls only had baby dolls to play with, which let them play mommy but not much more.

MONIER: Ruth Handler realized that little girls wanted to pictures themselves as adults.

STAMBERG: Young girls look up to older girls, imitate them, see their own futures in them. The first Barbie fans were 13, 14 - older girls. Today, they start at 4 and quit by 8 or 10. Now computers trump tiny skirt and sweater collections.

Manufacturer Mattel's business reflects the shifts. Sales were down. Then they soared back up. And there's Mattel money behind this elaborate Paris exhibition.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BARBIE GIRL")

AQUA: (Singing) I'm a Barbie girl in a Barbie world. Life in plastic - it's fantastic.

STAMBERG: It's a big and busy show - lots of sound and spectacle. Exhausting for mature visitors - grandmas, say, who still wouldn't buy Barbies for their little ones. Although, they may leave with just a bit more respect. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BARBIE GIRL")

AQUA: (Singing) I'm a Barbie girl in a Barbie world. Life in plastic - it's fantastic.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.