As a mother of young girls, Barbie has been present in our home for years. In general, I’m disgusted by the unrealistic expectations this doll sets for the girls we are attempting to raise into confident women. But recently, when I stumbled across one of the dolls from my ‘80s childhood, I had a little change of heart. I recalled my own love for the fashion icon.
As a young girl, I never gave a thought to Barbie’s blonde hair or unrealistic bust-waist-hip ratio. I loved her sense of style and her ability to be anything she wanted. I wasn’t thinking of Barbie’s body—I was simply enjoying endless hours of imaginative play with friends.
Here are just a few of my favorites:
Peaches ‘n Cream Barbie
This Barbie represented the quintessential ‘80s doll and was arguably one of the most memorable. I’m not sure if it was the color peach, which was very en vogue circa 1984 or the matching stole. The commercial featured a young Tiffani-Amber Thiessen of Saved By the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210 fame.
Loving You Barbie
She had a red heart dress and came with heart notes and stamper. Young girls were just beginning to understand crushes on the most basic level and this romantic Barbie was one that reminded us that someday we too would fall in love.
This Barbie was special because she sent a message we all needed to hear: We girls can do anything. The world and the cosmos were ours to explore, and we could do it with style and panache. Girls could be both smart and fun. We didn’t have to choose.
Perfume Pretty Barbie
Sometimes it was simply about looking and smelling good. This Barbie even came with a fragrance we could wear. Her message was not world-changing or lesson heavy, but she was fun, and there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun.
Fashion Jeans Barbie & Ken
Nothing said 1980s style like a kick-ass pair of denim jeans. With so many coveted brands—everything from Jordache to Guess—jeans were a big part of our Gen X youth. Who better to show off the major fashions of the times than Barbie, a style icon, and her forever boyfriend, Ken?
Barbie and The Rockers
These dolls, decked out in skirts and colorful tulle headbands, could sing and dance, all while looking stylish and cool. They taught me and my friends that girls could rock out too. And like many of the other popular Barbies of the ‘80s, Barbie and The Rockers came with a gimmicky toy—a cassette that you hoped wouldn’t unravel.
Great Shape Barbie
Created in response to the fitness craze of the ’80s, which found our own mothers working out alongside Jane Fonda and us singing in harmony to Olivia Newton John’s “Physical,” this Barbie looked the part. She came with rainbow-colored leg warmers, gym duffle bag, and an exercise book.
Fabulous Fur Barbie
This Barbie came along before it was politically incorrect and ethically uncool to wear animals in the name of fashion. Barbie draped her white fur over her very sparkly and bright blue one-piece pantsuit. She reminded us of the glamorous, over-the-top late night soap stars our mothers used to watch.
While we loved Barbie, the doll, her favorite places and accessories provided us with the tools to make Barbie truly come alive.
Golden Dream Barbie Fashion Face
This Barbie allowed us to style Barbie’s hair and do her makeup. This somewhat creepy bodiless head made each of us stylists by placing Barbie’s beauty in our hands. Sometimes they weren’t always capable hands though, as proven by those of us who dared cut Barbie’s hair.
Barbie Home and Office
With so many women balancing the demands of work and home, including our own mothers, this set taught us that working and having a family was not only possible, but fun. Of course, our own working mothers never seemed as unencumbered as Barbie. And none of them wore pink suits to work.
Barbie Loves McDonald’s Playset
One of my favorite toys of all time, the tiny burger patties could actually be placed on miniature buns. Back before organic was even a thing, our favorite doll got to hang out at one of America’s favorite fast food places.
Barbie Dream Bed
This canopied bed was a smaller version of the one many of us asked our parents for. It was pretty and pink, and we were sure if we slept in it, we would have pleasant dreams. And while many of us didn’t get the life-sized bed, we did get the one fit for Barbie. Somehow it was enough.
Barbie Fashion Case
Being a miniature fashionista meant that Barbie came with a plethora of tiny outfits, shoes, and accessories. The case was pivotal if we wanted to keep all of our Barbies’ stuff in one place.
In the 1980s, Barbie was a sign of the times in both dress and occupation, just as she has been for every decade since her birth in 1959. While she is not without her flaws, she will always remain one of the most memorable and inspiring dolls from our childhood.