Barbie′s Queer Accessories

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 20 b&w photographs Published: April 1995

Author: Erica Rand

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

She’s skinny, white, and blond. She’s Barbie—an icon of femininity to generations of American girls. She’s also multiethnic and straight—or so says Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer. But, as Barbie’s Queer Accessories demonstrates, many girls do things with Barbie never seen in any commercial. Erica Rand looks at the corporate marketing strategies used to create Barbie’s versatile (She’s a rapper! She’s an astronaut! She’s a bride!) but nonetheless premolded and still predominantly white image. Rand weighs the values Mattel seeks to embody in Barbie—evident, for example, in her improbably thin waist and her heterosexual partner—against the naked, dyked out, transgendered, and trashed versions favored by many juvenile owners and adult collectors of the doll.
Rand begins by focusing on the production and marketing of Barbie, starting in 1959, including Mattel’s numerous tie-ins and spin-offs. These variations, which include the much-promoted multiethnic Barbies and the controversial Earring Magic Ken, helped make the doll one of the most profitable toys on the market. In lively chapters based on extensive interviews, the author discusses adult testimony from both Barbie "survivors" and enthusiasts and explores how memories of the doll fit into women’s lives. Finally, Rand looks at cultural reappropriations of Barbie by artists, collectors, and especially lesbians and gay men, and considers resistance to Barbie as a form of social and political activism.
Illustrated with photographs of various interpretations and alterations of Barbie, this book encompasses both Barbie glorification and abjection as it testifies to the irrefutably compelling qualities of this bestselling toy. Anyone who has played with Barbie—or, more importantly, thought or worried about playing with Barbie—will find this book fascinating.


Barbie’s Queer Accessories is . . . the definitive scholarly work on the blonde babe ruler of the toy empire. . . . This is a smart, often funny, and necessary book about the Kore-figure of middle-class girldom. Most valuably, it opens up the discussion of how we make gender in the marketplace.” — Diane Roberts , Journal of American Studies

“[This] book persistently challenges the notion that interpretations can be straightforwardly read-off from cultural activities. . . . Rand . . . explains the multifarious uses and meanings of Barbie dolls in extraordinary detail. . . . This is a book that would usefully raise the temperature in any room where culture is on the agenda.” — Max Farrar , Times Higher Education

“Rand’s [book] stands out as an unusually thoughtful and engaging analysis of America’s favorite plastic sweetheart.” — Lynn Spigel, Contemporary Sociology

“Rand’s book opens up a whole new, wickedly funny way to play Barbie.” — Etalka Lehoczky , Boston Phoenix

"Over the course of the 1980s, Barbie has become an artist’s model, a collector’s ‘fetish,’ and, as Erica Rand shows us, an object of collective and personal memory. Barbie’s Queer Accessories will help to open up important issues about queer readings in relationship to one of the most feminine coded objects of contemporary culture." — Lynn Spigel, author of Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access