Barbie - soap and the synthetic pseudo-universe

The text of play with the toy

  • We play “mummies, daddies and babies”: I am the mummy and the big sister. We cook, listen to music and dance and jump around. Look after children (other dolls), take a bath, go for a drive in the car, change clothes, talk together.
  • A Barbiestory:

One day Barbie was out in the garden and Ken was in the garage. He found a hedgehog. He told Barbie what he had found. (…) Ken gave the hedgehog some milk. When the mother was on her way out, she saw the hedgehog drinking the milk. “That was a kind thing to do, Ken”, said the mother.

  • We put different clothes on them and brush and set their hair. Then we play pretty ladies with them and dress up and go out and visit each other until we get tired of it.
  • Barbiegets dressed and undressed, gets washed and puts on her make up and is often put to bed (a box). On other occasions they make a hammock out of a piece of material and some string.
  • A story:

There is a mummy and a daddy and three children. The father gets up first, then the mother. Then they take a bath. Get dressed. Then they wake the children, who are often already awake and get dressed. Now they are having their breakfast and then the father goes to work.

The big sister goes to school and the smallest children go to a childminder and then the mother goes to work. Sometimes the mother is at home and irons and cleans the house. The mother fetches the big girl and the small children at lunch time. Then they eat their lunch. Afterwards the children play. In the evening the mother makes dinner and the father comes home. Sometimes they watch TV or have visitors. Afterwards they go to bed.

  • In my house we play with all the dolls at once in my room or in the kitchen-diner (…) We sit on the floor. We each “control” our own dolls, except for the grandfather (doll) - because we share him.
  • If I have read a good book, my friendsand I get good ideas for playing with Barbie.
  • When my daughter plays with Barbieshe identifies completely with the adult world in every way - talks like an adult, also uses a different vocabulary than usual.
  • Barbieis out riding with her dog and she meets Ken. They get married and then have children.
  • A Barbiesong:

Barbie, Barbie,

Let’s go to town

Barbie, Barbie,

Get a move on

Or we’ll be late!

(Girl - aged 6 years)

Supplementary toys used with Barbie

Ordinary supplements:

Other doll requisites - furniture, rag dolls, dolls’ clothes, remnants of material, boxes, LEGO/DUPLO products, teddy bear, bed, household implements, recycled items


Cars, dressing up clothes, other types of dolls, symbolic animals, farm animals, horses, doctor’s set, jewellery/jewel box, shop/office inventory

  • 4-5 year old girls’ playwith adult doll and supplementary toys:

Dolls’ house/furniture, worthless objects, doll’s pram/pushchair, dolls’ clothes, household implements, horses/transport, boxes, LEGO/DUPLO, Playmobil

  • 4-5 year old girls’ playwith adult doll relative to girl doll’s supplementary toys:

Doll’s pram/pushchair, doll’s bed/cradle, changing table, dressing-up, dolls’ house/furniture, dolls’ clothes, household inventory

  • 6-10 year old girls’ playwith adult doll and supplementary toys:

Adult female doll, remnants of material, LEGO/DUPLO, rag doll, dolls’ house/furniture, household inventory, dressing up, boxes, dolls, symbolic animals, teddy bear, dolls’ clothes, bed, cars, recycled items, girl doll, dolls’ animals, farmyard/animals, horses, doctor set, jewellery/jewel box, dolls’ pram/pushchair, household implements, shop/office inventory, transport/machines, ornaments/decoration, tape cassette player, poems, worthless objects, glass objects

  • 6-10 year old girls’ playwith adult doll relative to rag doll’s supplementary toys:

Dolls’ pram/pushchair, dolls’ clothes, symbolic animals, teddy bear, dolls’ bed/cradle, bed, baskets, household implements, dressing-up, paper

  • Relative to baby dollsupplementary toys:

Dolls’ pram/pushchair, doll, rag doll, symbolic animal, teddy bear, doll’s bed/cradle, changing table, household implements.

About the toy

The degree of reality of the Barbie doll is a mixture of the concrete and the diffuse, its degree of complexity is uncomplicated, its degree of development is traditional, it is industrially produced and the majority of materials are plastic and synthetic.

The female Barbie doll was created by Ruth Handler in the USA in 1959. Ruth Handler is also the founder of the Mattel toy company. Barbie is named after her creator’s daughter Barbara, Barbie’s boyfriend Ken after her son, Kenneth. World wide Barbie sales to date total more than 800 million dolls. The adult female Barbie doll is, like copy products (Sindy, Petra, Cassy, etc.), used by girls of all ages. None of the texts are therefore an expression of Barbie being used by girls whose families have a certain life pattern. Many mothers still have their own Barbie doll. None of the boys in the research (Steenhold (1993,d)) are registered as playing with Barbie.

Ruth Handler designed the first real Barbie fashion clothes with the fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. This was to become an important part of the concept. Johnson (who still designs Barbie fashions) and Handler concentrated on the small details and this is the key to the overwhelming success of the doll. To date Barbie has modelled more than 1500 different costumes and has had numerous jobs and interesting hobbies.

A black and a Latin Barbie were launched in 1980. In order to create play opportunities, the doll has been given friends and acquaintances. Many different types have come and gone over the years - Barbie changes her allegiances from time to time! Two of Barbie’s best friends have been accepted all over the world: her boyfriend Ken (since 1961) and her little sister Skipper (1964).

Barbie is cultural history and the artist Andy Warhol made her a cult figure. Barbie’s “Newsletter” has become a collector’s item as, naturally, the doll herself. Adult women can become members of the “Secret Barbie Cult”.

When girls play with Barbie, they enter the Barbie universe and live in Barbie’s world which is more or less devoid of conflict.

As a doll with a lot of accessories in the form of toy implements, Barbie presents optimal conditions for all case relations included in both text and communication. Generally, the person-at-play creates all kinds of imaginable combinations between Barbie, the accessories and other toys.

Barbie is a universally pragmatic toy which meets the demand for comprehensibility, truth, truthfulness but only inasmuch as Barbie is simultaneously recognised as a parody of the universe she represents. She is a true and legitimate representative of a social paradox which makes reference to both the concrete and the diffuse possibilities inherent in the Western societies’ universe. She is a parody of the adult female’s pseudo universe, which can be played with.

Furthermore, Barbie represents a futuristic adult world - partly the older girl’s dream of owning pretty things, implements and interesting inventory items (the concrete) and partly the decadence of the world of the sophisticated,  financially comfortable, adult woman with her expensive wardrobe and exclusive furnishings (the diffuse).

The person-at-play experiments and creates experiences with Barbie within the psychological and metaphysical possibilities of play. However, logical possibilities are present in play on the strength of the triad “absolute term, relative term, conjugative term”.

The child is forced to draw a limit between Barbie’s and her own universe. Thus she recognises that Barbie’s universe is both true and untrue which in no way prevents her from integrating her own and Barbie’s universe in play.

Barbie is linked to strong symbol and utility values. Play with Barbie can be a directional indication of the child’s future and girls’ play with any doll always creates security, cosiness, peace, harmony and intimacy in the family unit.

Through play, the child is motivated to be aware of developments in Barbie’s and similar universes and gains a faculty for abstraction as well as for independence, practical sense and control over many objects. Barbie is a “consensual” toy which the child and her closest friends use in their immediate environment.



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