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I'm a Barbie girl

When April Wall was a child, she eagerly anticipated Christmas and her birthday because that meant receiving a new Barbie. During her childhood, she managed to collect about 100 of the dolls.
April Wall shows off a few of her Silkstones Barbie dolls, which are specifically designed for adult collectors. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
When April Wall was a child, she eagerly anticipated Christmas and her birthday because that meant receiving a new Barbie.

During her childhood, she managed to collect about 100 of the dolls. When she stopped playing with them as a teenager, she carefully packed them away in a box.

But unbeknownst to her, when her parents moved, her much-younger sisters discovered the toys, and treated them roughly.

“When I was about 26, I asked my gran to bring out my boxes,” Wall said.

“There was one very small box. I said 'That's not my dolls.' She said 'That's all your mother gave me.' It was a big 'Uh oh.' There was a few specimens I recognized in there, sans clothes, sans shoes, sans accessories.”

When Wall's friends heard about the ill-fated Barbie collection, they started buying her new dolls. That's how she came to be a full-fledged Barbie collector.

Wall, who now has “hundreds” of the dolls, showed off some of her collection at Greater Sudbury Public Library's Main Branch this past weekend.

One of the Barbies on display is a childhood toy that miraculously escaped her sisters' treatment because it was packed separately from the rest of the dolls.

Wall said she purchased the Barbie, an “American girl,” from a doll collector in Detroit with allowance money.

While collectors do search out vintage Barbies such as this one, Wall said the doll's maker, Mattel, started making reproductions of these older Barbies back in the 1990s, devaluing the real deal.

They also started making a type of luxury Barbie called Silkstones, which come with detailed clothing and are made out of better-quality materials. They can be worth thousands of dollars.

Wall said she owns a mixture of vintage Barbies, reproductions and Silkstones, as well as more common Barbies. She also owns a few Kens, but mostly as props to stage her Barbies. Ironically, though, Wall's own husband is named Ken.

When asked what she thinks the appeal of Barbie is, Wall said for kids, it all comes down to imagination, as the doll can take on any role they want it to.

She said her nine-year-old daughter, Shelby, loves playing with Barbies as long as they're poseable.

The doll's appeal is different for adult collectors, though, she said.

“It's certain designers, certain vintages, certain styles and so forth,” Wall said. “That's why Mattel has been clever enough to market specific lines directly to adults and other lines for children.”

Greater Sudbury Public Library co-ordinator of outreach programs and partnerships Jessica Watts brought her two daughters, Dylan, 7, and Marley, 14 months, to take a look at the Barbie collection.

Dylan said she only has a few Barbies, but she does have several accessories to go with them, including a dollhouse and a car.

“There's really cool stuff in here,” she said. “I'm excited to see them. I really want to get them. Every one's my favourite, I can't choose any.”

Barbie's history

Ruth Handler, who owned a toy company with husband Elliot, got the idea to create a three-dimensional version of the fashion paper dolls that her daughter, Barbara, always played with.

At first, the Mattel factory workers refused to make the doll, as they considered the nude female form inappropriate.

The first Barbie doll — named after Handler's daughter — wore a black-and-white zebra-striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959.

Barbie's body

A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5-9 at 1/6 scale. Barbie's vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches (chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips).

Experts say she would lack the 17 to 22 per cent body fat required for a woman to menstruate.

Mattel said that the waist of the Barbie doll was made small because the waistbands of her clothes, along with their seams, snaps, and zippers, added bulk to her figure.

In 1997, Barbie's body mold was redesigned and given a wider waist, with Mattel saying that this would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs.

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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