Often we read about people whose Barbie collections are impressive but whose obsessions don’t quite set off any warning alarms. That’s about to change. Meet Valeria Lukyanova. The Ukrainian model is referred to as “human Barbie,” and her appearance is shocking. Although Lukyanova initially denied having any plastic surgery to achieve her doll-like appearance, other than breast implants, she later came clean and admitted that she had gone under the knife. Now in her 30s, she insists that she’s into a more natural look these days and is focused on her health and fitness more than achieving an unnatural appearance.
Now we’ll visit some people with more “normal” Barbie hobbies and learn some fascinating facts about everyone’s favorite plastic woman.
“Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!”
Barbie is one of the most recognizable, iconic, and enduring toys of the past century. Beloved by children and adults alike, Barbie dolls have achieved cult status among both casual fans and serious collectors.
Let’s take a look at Barbie from her very earliest days to her current status as a shared cultural treasure with her own holiday (March 9th every year). We’ll revisit some of the strangest Barbies ever released and learn about the most expensive dolls ever sold. We will also meet some more people who have gone a bit too far with their Barbie obsessions (like we’ve already seen) and have actually gone under the knife to look like her.
Where did Barbie’s story begin? An American businesswoman named Ruth Handler first thought of the doll after she observed her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls. Handler noticed that Barbara frequently gave the childish dolls adult roles. On a 1956 family trip to Germany, Handler discovered “Bild líllï Dolls,” which had adult-proportioned figures and were popular with children there. Handler purchased a doll, brought it home, and redesigned it. She then approached Mattel (which her husband happened to be co-founder of) and at the American International Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, Barbie was unveiled to the world. March 9 is cited by Mattel as Barbie’s official birthday, and National Barbie Day is celebrated on this date each year.
The First Barbies
The original Barbie dolls had quite a different appearance from today’s dolls when they were first revealed in 1959. Barbie was dressed in a black and white zebra print one-piece swimsuit, had a coy sideways gaze, and her hair was styled in a ponytail on the top of her head. Advertisements marketed Barbie as a “Teen-age Fashion Model,” and she was available with either blonde or brunette hair. During Mattel’s first year of production, the company sold around 350,000 Barbies. The dolls sold for a mere $3 new, but today a mint-condition Barbie in the original packaging can earn upwards of $25,000 at auction.
Barbara Millicent Roberts
Although Barbie is one of the most recognizable toys in the world, most people probably aren’t aware that her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, after Ruth Handler’s daughter. Here are some other fun facts you might not know about her.
Barbie hails from the (fictional) town of Willows, Wisconsin. She attended Willows High School before leaving small-town Wisconsin and becoming an international celebrity.
Barbie’s official Pantone color is 219C.
An animal lover, Barbie has had over 40 pets over the years, including a giraffe, a chimpanzee, and a zebra.
Barbie and Ken split up. That’s right, after spending 43 years together, America’s golden couple broke things off in 2004. The two were never married.
A Well-Rounded And Hard-Working Individual
Barbie is clearly driven to succeed professionally. She’s held over 150 jobs during her nearly 60-year career, including pediatrician, firefighter, cat burglar, astronaut, news anchor, eye doctor, babysitter, dolphin trainer, presidential candidate, spaghetti chef, yoga teacher, veterinarian, art teacher, fast food employee, and American Idol winner. That’s quite an impressive resumé!
All the hard work has paid off for Barbie. She is the proud owner of a beach mansion in Malibu, a dream house, a glam getaway house, a pink Corvette, a party bus complete with hot tub, a private glamour vacation jet, and a rainbow castle. She’s rolling in it.
Dozens of notable artists have been inspired by Barbie’s iconic style. Her famous fan base includes luminaries such as pop art legend Andy Warhol, architect Robert A. M. Stern, painter Peter Max, and photographer David Levinthal. Mattel owns Warhol’s portrait of Barbie, which he painted in 1985, and displays it at their Malibu Dream House in California. In 2015, Mattel teamed with the Andy Warhol Foundation and released a $150 limited edition Andy Warhol Barbie doll — complete with his trademark white hair.
BBC journalist Hannah Moore explains Barbie’s appeal to artists: “To [Warhol] and others, Barbie is the perfect symbol of glamour, fun, superficiality and consumerism. A plastic face to represent…something deeper about Western culture.”
There have been some really strange and controversial Barbies released over the years. From Babysitter Barbie, who came with a book called How to Lose Weight to an African American variation called Oreo Barbie (seriously), Mattel has definitely raised some eyebrows and spurred plenty of anger with their dolls.
Teen Talk Barbie spoke a few sentences at the touch of a button. One of the phrases she repeated was “Math class is tough!” which didn’t go over very well with most women. Forever Barbie came complete with a dog named Tanner, who pooped when you lifted his tail. Forever Barbie, that lucky gal, got to pick up Tanner’s mess with an adorable little pooper scooper.
Most Controversial Barbie Ever?
In the long list of weird Barbies that Mattel has created, one stands out as possibly the most inappropriate ever. That would be the Pregnant Midge doll. Midge Hadley (great name) was marketed as Barbie’s best friend. Introduced by Mattel in 1963 in an effort to downplay Barbie’s “sex symbol” status, Midge usually had freckles, reddish hair and bright blue eyes. In 2002 Mattel unveiled a new Happy Family line, in which Midge was pregnant and you could pull her unborn child out of her belly. People thought Midge was too young to have a baby and worried that the doll would encourage teen pregnancy. Pregnant Midge was promptly yanked from shelves and is one of the most highly sought-after Barbies for collectors today.
Most Popular Barbies
Mattel’s best-selling doll of all time was 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie, which featured hair that reached all the way to the tips of Barbie’s toes. More than 10 million Totally Hair Barbies were sold worldwide.
Though Mattel doesn’t have sales figures on every Barbie model it’s released, some dolls are clear fan favorites. Malibu Barbie (1971-on) has always been a hit with kids and collectors alike, with her tanned skin and stylish swimsuits. And American Girl Barbie (1965) was the first doll in the line to feature bendable legs. Christie was introduced as Barbie’s first black friend in 1968, and she remained in the Barbie family until 2005.
The list of favorite Barbie models goes on and on. Twist-and-Turn Barbie, released in 1967, introduced young girls to the new mod era with her two-piece mesh bikini and silver go-go boots. Share A Smile Becky, who came in a wheelchair, was seen as a positive role model for disabled kids. Day To Night Barbie is frequently cited as a favorite. Her removable blazer over an evening dress made it easy for her transition from her successful 9-5 job to a night on the town (presumably with Ken). And Golden Dreams Barbie was a real hit with those who liked her over-the-top glamour, with her glittery gold outfit and matching hair.
Special And Limited Edition Barbie Dolls
Mattel is constantly releasing special and limited edition versions of their dolls. Limited edition dolls tend to fall into a few main categories such as Hollywood, Vintage Looks, Fashions, or Dolls of the World. The reduced number of dolls available makes them very appealing and adds to their resale value, for those collectors who are quick enough to buy them when they’re released. Limited editions from more recent years include an entire Mad Men collection, Bob Mackie fashions, Happy New Year 2017, and even a Barbie “festival look” doll. There’s a doll out there for everyone.
Celebs Love Barbie, Too
OK, we’ve already established that adults love Barbie as much as kids do. But you’d never guess how many Barbie-obsessed celebs there are out there. And many of these lucky stars have been turned into Barbie versions of themselves! It’s no surprise that classic stars like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and Marilyn Monroe have been immortalized in Barbie form. But some contemporary celebrities have also gotten the Barbie treatment… names like J.K. Rowling, Emmy Rossum, Kim Clijsters, Beyoncé, Cyndi Lauper, Cher, and Farrah Fawcett are just a few. Here’s the sad news: many of these are one-of-a-kinds created for the stars’ personal use only — you won’t see these special celebrity Barbies at your local Toys “R” Us anytime soon.
What Kind Of People Collect Barbies?
With so many thousands of unique and unusual Barbies out there, you can guess that obtaining some of these dolls would be a collector’s dream come true. Barbie fans are willing to drop some serious cash to add coveted rare and discontinued dolls to their collections. According to a Mattel estimate, there are more than 100,000 Barbie collectors worldwide. The majority (90%) are women near 40 years old, and nearly half of them spend $1,000 or more on dolls and accessories every year. We’ll meet some of these avid Barbie fans now, and find out the extravagant amounts of money some rare dolls have fetched.
Stanley Colorite is definitely a serious Barbie fan. The Florida resident, who calls himself “Barbie Man,” lives in a seven-bedroom house stocked with 3,000 dolls (2,000 Barbies and 1,000 Kens), along with 3,000 outfits. What started with one doll (a Happy Holidays edition) 16 years ago rapidly spiraled into an expensive obsession. In an interview with Daily Mail, Colorite said “I can’t stop collecting – it’s like a drug habit, I just can’t quit.” He admitted to spending nearly $30,000 year on Barbies. The single most valuable doll in Colorite’s collection is Pink Splendor Barbie, valued at $1,000.
Barbie Man’s collection pales in comparison to another we’ll see in just a bit, though.
One Los Angeles woman is giving Stanley Colorite a run for his money with her Barbie obsession. Azusa Sakamoto goes by the name “Azusa Barbie” and has spent $70,000 turning her home into a pink Barbie-themed wonderland. She told Daily Mail that she is “Barbie’s biggest fan – everyone thinks I’m crazy but I don’t care.” Azusa’s home is decked out in everything Barbie, from her bed coverings to her refrigerator to her own clothes. A nail artist, she specializes in Barbie-themed fingernails. Her most expensive doll purchase to date was Namie Amuro Vidal Sasoon Barbie, which is worth approximately $1,100.
There are plenty of people who consider themselves Barbie’s biggest fan, but one woman has the honor of being recognized for her collection by Guinness World Records. Bettina Dorfmann, who lives in Dusseldorf, Germany, received a Midge doll when she was five years old. Now in her 50s, Dorfmann owns a staggering 15,000 Barbie dolls — the world’s largest collection. In addition to owning an original 1959 Barbie, she also has a Barbie Pony Tail Number 1, valued at more than $10,000. In her spare time, Dorfmann runs a “hospital” for broken Barbies, where she untangles knotted hair and fixes broken limbs.
Those Are Some Expensive Dolls
So just how much are these serious Barbie aficionados shelling out for their individual dolls? Generally, older vintage dolls in mint condition are the most valuable. Here are some of the highest prices ever paid for Barbie dolls.
The Stefano Canturi Barbie: $632,000 USD. In 2010, Mattel teamed with famed jewelry designer Stefano Canturi to create the most valuable Barbie in history. This lucky (and lovely) doll is decked out in genuine rare pink diamonds registered with the Australian Argyle mine. Her necklace alone is worth $600k. Proceeds from the auction went to breast cancer research.
Barbie and the Diamond Castle Doll
In 2008, Disney released an animated movie titled Barbie and the Diamond Castle. To commemorate and celebrate the film’s release (straight to DVD), Mattel created a special promotional doll. This one-of-a-kind Barbie doll was draped from head to toe in 318 genuine diamonds. All of her accessories, including a necklace, a tiara, bracelet, earrings, and delicate slippers, were made of white gold and gems. The value of Barbie and the Diamond Castle: $94,800. If that’s too rich for your budget, don’t worry. You can purchase the DVD for a mere $15 bucks.
De Beers 40th Anniversary Barbie
Barbie’s 40th birthday in 1999 was a big deal to fans, and Mattel wanted to create a doll befitting of such a momentous occasion. The company paired with the “A Diamond Is Forever” firm, De Beers, to create a unique, stunning, and very expensive, doll. This special Barbie wears a somewhat racy ensemble featuring a gold bikini top with a sheer orange skirt and a matching wrap. The centerpiece of this doll is her belt, which is encrusted with 160 De Beers diamonds. The De Beers 40th Anniversary Barbie was purchased for a whopping $85,000.
Possibly the world’s most famous fictional Barbie collector is Waylon Smithers, Mr. Burns’ devoted assistant on the hit animated series The Simpsons. On the show, Barbie is called Malibu Stacy, and both Smithers and Lisa Simpson are fans. Mr. Smithers even wrote a musical called “Malibu Stacy” which played in the Albuquerque Theater.
An entire episode of The Simpsons focused on Barbie. Originally aired in 1994, “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” followed Lisa as she convinces the doll’s original creator to join forces with her and cajole Malibu Stacy’s production company into creating a doll that will empower girls. Her beef with the toy manufacturer came after she purchase a talking Malibu Stacy, only to hear the doll spout such sexist lines as “Thinking gives you wrinkles” and “Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl.” Sound familiar??!
There’s A Human Ken, Too
Of course there is. Justin Jedlica is another man who is focused on looking as much like Ken as possible. Jedlica, 36, has endured an astonishing 180 surgeries to his face. His personal website says “This self-professed ‘artist’ and “pioneer of the modifiable male aesthetic” has no intention of stopping his surgical alterations.”
But wait, there’s another one! 33-year-old Rodrigo Alves told People magazine that he’s now spent upwards of $465,000 on surgeries to look like a real-life Ken doll. He’s undergone 51 procedures to achieve his obsessive goal. Alves says that he initially wanted to look like a Disney prince, but after so many surgeries realized that he closely resembles Ken. So naturally, he’s pursuing the Ken look now.
I’m A Barbie Girl, In A Barbie World
In 1997, the world was introduced to a catchy pop song all about the iconic doll: “Barbie World,” by a Danish-Norwegian pop group called Aqua. Although “Barbie World” initially climbed the charts worldwide and eventually sold 8 million copies worldwide, it was later voted by Rolling Stone readers as the “number one most annoying song of the 1990s.”
Mattel was not pleased with the lyrics and sued Aqua’s record company in 2000, claiming that the song violated their trademark rights and depicted Barbie as a “Blonde Bimbo,” damaging the brand’s reputation. The courts ruled that the song was protected as a “parody,” and today Mattel uses an amended version of it in commercials.
The song’s repetitive, nasally lyrics still resonate with many kids of the 90s today. Watch the video here: