How Barbie Lost Her Glamour, And How She Might Get It Back

Grace_look Barbie was never meant to be naked, anyway. The countless accessory packs filled with every imaginable wardrobe need affirmed that the point of the doll was the clothes, and not the other way around. Fashion provided the details that gave life to Barbie’s world, inspiring girls’ play with scenarios of lavish shopping excursions and elegant cocktail parties. The molded stiletto sandals, fur-trimmed sleeves, and velvet pocketbooks all suggested, but didn’t proscribe, starting points for a fantasy.

The tiny clothes were glamorous in their own right, modeled on the real-life wardrobes of icons like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Jackie Kennedy. It helped that they were designed by a fashion designer and hand-sewn by Japanese home-workers under her supervision. Paris’s haute couture was the inspiration through the early 60s, with designs modeled after those by Hubert Givenchy, Coco Chanel, and Cristobal Balenciaga. Paris was supplanted by London mod later that decade, and the Twiggy look was a natural fit for Barbie. She had more casual outfits as well, but they were tailored and adult, never too girlish.

This aspirational adulthood at the core of Barbie’s glamour started to fade in the 1970s, a direct result of evolution in the design of the doll and her accessories. Barbie started going in for regular plastic surgery as early as 1961, and the result was that she got younger and younger looking over time. Looking back, Barbie #1 was probably too old (“the face of a 40 year-old woman whose seen a lot of action” in the words of one collector), but as they say, cosmetic procedures can be addictive, and by now Barbie has had so many that she looks barely 15. Likewise, her fashion sense has gotten more casual, more girly, and less couture over time. No doubt this movement reflected trends in real-world fashion, but it made Barbie less of an elegant model. Mattel amped up the youthful girlishness with the introduction of liberal doses of pink, which though now ubiquitous was never a major influence until the 70s.


This younger, brasher form of femininity made Barbie more relatable but less aspirational, and her audience has steadily down-aged with her. Ruth Handler originally intended the doll for girls aged 8-13, but for a 13 year-old, there’s nothing glamorous about a doll that’s pretty much just like your older sister. Now girls are done with Barbie by age 6.

The other essential aspect of Barbie’s glamour was a certain aura of mystery that allowed you to fill in the details of her life in whatever wonderful ways you pleased. But Barbie got a little less mysterious in 1972, when designers traded her classic downward gaze for a direct stare. This made her more open and less enigmatic, and I think that had to change the relationship girls had with her. Now Barbie engaged with you; she was a friend and a playmate, like your favorite babysitter rather than an icon from the movies or TV.


Lately, Mattel has taken Barbie into uncharted territory — the realm of pure fantasy — which crosses the line from aspirational into imaginary. With dolls like Barbie Fairytopia and Mermaidia (complete with mermaid tail), they contradict her original purpose of working through real-life desires by projection, and offer something more akin to fairy tales. Other Barbies, such as Birthday Barbie, seem to have absorbed this influence, and are starting to look a lot like Disney characters. This may make them magical and enchanting to her now very young audience, but the loss of a connection to reality makes this least glamorous evolution so far.


Of course, none of this is to say that any one incarnation of Barbie is better than any other, or that glamour is necessarily even still relevant to Barbie’s role in American girl culture. After all, I came of age in an era when glamour was largely gone from the brand, and yet I loved my campy Barbie in her hot pink spandex and her fuschia dream house. But while my loyalty to 80s Barbie is unquestionable, there is little part of me that can’t help but wish for a renaissance of that old-school Barbie, the kind of doll that would grace the pages of the The Sartorialist, rather than the aisles of Forever 21.


Where Has All The Beach Glamour Gone?

Tender is the night I’m coming up on my annual beach trip with friends – a chaotic week of sand-covered kids and steamed crabs and guacamole and margaritas. As part of my pre-beach ritual (along with tons of list-making and laundry), I’m rereading my favorite beach book ever, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

The book opens on a summertime beach in southern France, where a young American starlet, Rosemary Hoyt, meets a glamorous and wealthy group of expatriates, including Dick and Nicole Diver, the book’s tragic hero and heroine. The story is based on the time Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, spent in the south of France with their notoriously fabulous friends Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Nicole Diver’s mental illness more than loosely resembles Zelda’s deterioration.

But back to the beach. In the very first chapter, Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of an emerging hot spot – the Cote d’Azur just as it became a fashionable summertime destination – with a beach covered in characters, including a lady in full evening dress (including a tiara) left over from the night before, and the ever-sophisticated Mrs. Diver, with, “her bathing suit pulled off her shoulders and her back, a ruddy, orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls.”

Does this glamorous, exclusive beach exist today? It must, though it’s hard to imagine a spot that’s cosmopolitan but not yet overrun by development and tourists. And an internet search for “beach glamour” turns up with some suggestions that are more Playboy than “sophisticated expatriate.”

It seems that those in the business of branding today’s beaches value sexiness (and a possible mention on “Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches”) over traditional glamour. While glamour and sexiness aren’t mutually exclusive, they’re not one and the same, either, a fact that’s especially obvious when bathing suits are involved.

Outfitting The Bridesmaids

1488110644_044538a7f8 Virginia’s article about the economic reasons why plus sizes are becoming harder to find in stores reminded me of a conversation I had just overheard about buying shoes. There was to be a wedding, and one of the bridesmaids wore size 10½ shoes. Every time the bridesmaids found a shoe that they all liked, it would be unavailable in size 10½. So they were starting to check out shoes at Zappos, with finding shoes available in 10½ as their first concern.

I have seen numerous bridesmaids’ dresses which were not particularly flattering, and I used to wonder if this was a conspiracy to make the bride look more beautiful. But now I suspect that it’s not easy to choose a dress style that will look flattering on a large variety of bodies.

I attended one wedding that illustrates this issue well, and I learned from talking with the dressmaker some of the problems that she can face. In that case the material chosen for the bridesmaid’s dresses was a boldly flowered print, and the finished dresses looked cute on the bridesmaids who were size 6, 8, and 10. But two of the bridesmaids were significantly larger: one had a bust line of 45 inches, and the other had a bust line of 52 inches (with a larger waist). The dressmaker actually had to have more cloth shipped in from out of town in order to have enough for their dresses, and the flowered print was definitely unflattering to the larger young women.

I realize that bridal dresses are usually intended to be a one-use outfit. But what about the bridesmaids? Do bridesmaids ever get to wear dresses that they find themselves using again for other occasions?

[Photo by Bradley P. Johnson and used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]

DG Q&A: Artist Kana Harada

KanaportraitKana Harada says she was born an artist. "I started drawing when I was a year old, and my mother still tells me that when I was four, I announced, ‘I was born to draw.’ Ever since then, art is what I’ve lived,” she says.

Born and raised in Tokyo, with a short stint in Long Island due to her father’s job, Harada had formal training in art in Tokyo. Her husband’s Texas Instruments job brought her to Dallas in 1995 and it was there that she started to create birdcage-inspired pieces out of hand-cut foam sheets.

As she told Artistic Network in 2005, “You may never see any birds in my cages, as I imagine them to be like fairies, coming and going when no one is looking, but I hope you'll feel their joy, their songs of freedom, and the sense of enriched peace in each and every perch I have created.”

She then used the foam to create her series of hand mirrors with empty centers and intricate hand work, which evoke the magic and mystery of dark fairy tales or a woman’s hope for beauty reflecting back at her.

Crescent“I’ve always loved hand mirrors,” she says. “Their shapes, sizes, and how we look into them just to see our own faces.”

Her pieces are feminine and whimsical. Harada says she tries to convey a sense of freedom in just being yourself, “a celebration of life.”

“I’d like to convey the calming, peaceful, deep joy of being a part of the universe,” she says.

Harada, who has exhibited in the U.S. and Japan, had shows earlier this year at Mighty Fine Arts in Dallas and the Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas' CADD Art Lab. Her next exhibitions will be in May 2010 at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary (MAC) and HCG Gallery.

DG: With your mirrors, is the shape of the mirror the magical/glamorous part to you, or is it the idea of the gaze? why?

Kana Harada: It's both. I see them in a theatrical sense, because they were initially inspired by Sleeping Beauty and vintage pictures of women looking into hand mirrors. I hope they're a door to other wonderful dimensions within the viewer... their stories.

DG: Some studies have said we are more narcissistic today than ever before. Do you feel that way?

KH: Not at all.In this economy, our values are definitely changing. We're relating more with others, sharing similar experiences and supporting one another. To me, this is the beginning of finding true luxury and "glamour." Enriching and deepening the beauty within us.

DG: How do you define glamour?

KH: Grace, elegance and kindness. I believe it’s a state of mind, knowing exactly who you are, being in tune with your inner-self.

DG: Who or what is your glamorous icon?

KH: The craftsmanship and design of American plastic handbags from the 50’s, and Audrey Hepburn in her later years.

DG: Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?

KH: Both.

DG: Favorite glamorous movie?

KH: Diva (1981), Roman Holiday (1953)

DG: What was your most glamorous moment?

KH: Every time I finish one of my pieces.

Kanaharada2 DG: Favorite glamorous object?

KH: The one-of-a-kind eye glasses I get in Tokyo.

DG: Most glamorous place?

KH: Home - where my husband is.

DG: Most glamorous job?

KH: Full-time artist!

DG: Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't.

KH: “Glamour” when defined too materialistically.

DG: Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized.

KH: The kindness of strangers. This is always SO classy.

DG: Can glamour survive?

KH: As a power that comes from a positive state of mind and kindness, of course. One of these days, it’ll be THE “bling” everyone wants.

DG: Is glamour something you're born with?

KH: In some cases yes, but it can be acquired as well. It’s never too late.

Kana harada mirrors


1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Cate Blanchett

2) Paris or Venice? Venice

3) New York or Los Angeles? New York (Long Island)

4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Grace

5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Kyoto. (I’m from Tokyo, so Kyoto is a dream place for me.)

6) Boots or stilettos? Christian Louboutin's black spiked heels

7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Art Nouveau

8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Both but only if vintage

9) Armani or Versace? John Galliano’s runway fashion

10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Diana Vreeland

11) Champagne or single malt? Champagne

12) 1960s or 1980s? 50’s and before

13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds

14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Linda Evangelista

15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Sean Connery

Carrie Fisher On Star Power

Debbie reynolds mural

We’ve all heard the expression, “Star Quality”—that ineffable something that makes certain people focus pullers. It’s my theory that they shine. Something glows out of their eyes, –as though they’ve swallowed some of the spot light that follows them around onstage—and people get caught in their magnetic field and are drawn to them.  It might even be possible that one of the reasons that celebrities are called stars is because of this shine. And maybe if you hang around these beaming people, some of it will rub off on you. Whatever this thing is that glows out of them that makes them preferred above most others, if you touch them, talk to them, walk with them, live with them—maybe you can get anointed by this wattage.

Anyway, my mother had this thing, this sublime light, and it’s been spilling out of her ever since she was sixteen, shine that poured out of her and all over everyone. People followed her in the street, flocked to her shows—wanted a piece of her because she reminded them of the best version of themselves. And to get that piece they applaud her, write her, love her in all the ways they know how, and my mother appreciates it. Especially when she performs. She gives everything she’s got and in return the audience celebrates her and this makes her feel a little like she’s going to live forever. And she is. She’s going to take some of that shine of hers with her and leave the rest of it to glow out of the eyes of the people that love her.

“Star light star bright, the rest I cant remember right”

[Debbie Reynolds mural photo by Flickr user DominusVobiscum under Creative Commons license.]

DG Contest: Pure Silk And Nouriva, Gifts For Happy Skin

Just in time for the bare skin of summer, we have skin-treating bonanza, thanks to Alexis Fabricant at The Lane Communications Group and two of her glamorous clients.

Pure Silk Group For starters, our winner will receive a full-size can Pure Silk® Moisturizing Shave Cream by Barbasol® in each of the following subtle scents:

Raspberry Mist 
Melon Splash
Citrus Zest
Peaches & Cream
Coconut & Oat Flour

Designed especially for women, Pure Silk is enriched with aloe to give your legs extra moisture.

But wait...there's more...

Nouriva You also get Nouriva Repair Moisturizing Cream, which is free of preservatives and fragrances and contains three essential lipids.

Alexis calls it a "down-to-earth" moisturizer, but those who prefer a little science glamour will be happy to know that this book identifies it as a product using a "nanoparticle delivery system."

To win this prize package, be the first reader to email me at with the answer to this question:

What famous makeup artist says plumeria is her favorite flower? (Hint: Use the "Search DeepGlamour" box at the top of the right-hand column.)

Contest open to U.S. residents only. Gifts will be shipped directly from Lane Communications.

Plus Sizes: The Big Picture

Plus-size-shopping The malls are empty, and retailers are crying for customers. American women are getting heavier by the day. Yet stores like Ann Taylor and Bloomingdale’s, and lines including Liz Claiborne and Ellen Tracy, are slashing their plus-size offerings—turning away potential sales and generating angry denunciations of “sizeism.” What's going on?

As I explain in this article on Double X, the new women-oriented spinoff of Slate, there's a perfectly rational explanation that doesn't require an animus toward larger women. It does require graphs to explain, however, and The Washington Post, owner of Double X and Slate, has saddled the ladies with a design that can't handle more than one graphic per article, let alone multiple bar charts.

Here at DG, however, we have an ace technical and design staff. So here are the missing pictures, courtesy of David Bruner at TC[2]. (Click to see the full-size version.)

USA Female Weight Distribution

Height, by contrast, looks more like a bell curve.

Height distribution

Here are weights for the same two age groups:


Read the article here.

[Photo from iStockPhoto© Claudia Dewald]

Nollywood Babylon

Nollywood Babylon, showing July 3-7 at the Museum of Modern Art, depicts the stars and directors behind Nigeria's film industry, the world's third-largest and fastest growing. Made cheaply and distributed as DVDs, Nollywood films have an enthusiastic audience, many of whom rely on pirated copies. Judging from the trailer and press notes, the documentary focuses particularly on the role evangelical Christianity plays in Nollywood films. The trailers at suggest more-universal elements: sex, money, violence, and family conflicts.