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To me, Barbie has always been more than a toy: Collector attends Barbie premier, reflects on 64 years of iconic brand

Like so many young girls, the stories of these dolls inspire us to chase our dreams. At five years old, as I played with my first Barbie, I dreamed of becoming the very journalist I am today.

  • 10 months ago
  • August 16, 2023
7 min read
Barbies from María's collection appear at Expos and in museums. She owns over 300 Barbies across six decades. Barbies from María's collection appear at Expos and in museums. She owns over 300 Barbies across six decades. | Photo courtesy of Dream Team of Toys
María de los Ángeles Rojas, Barbie collector
Interview Subject
María de los Ángeles Rojas, 42, works as a translator and lives in Salta, Argentina. She is an avid collector and currently has about 300 Barbies at her home. In 2019 she brought collectors together from around the country and organized the Expo Barbie 60 Years at the Centro Cultural America in Salta – the first event of its kind there. She displayed the evolution of Barbies over six decades. Her collection appears in museums and this year, attending the premier of the Barbie move with her three-year-old daughter, proved a once-in-a-lifetime experience for this super fan.
Background Information
The first Barbie doll emerged on the market in March 1959, representing the first mass-produced toy doll with adult features ever created in America. The creator of Barbie, a woman named Ruth Handler, co-founded the toy company Mattel, Inc. with her husband Elliot. She believed there was an opportunity in the market to create adult-looking dolls for girls that would help them imagine their future. Barbie dolls come with a story and have featured more than 250 careers including doctor, paleontologist, rock star, astronaut, and computer engineer.

SALTA, Argentina ꟷ For three years, I eagerly followed the news about the upcoming Barbie movie [released on July 21, 2023]. I awaited the premier and tracked every casting decision, film update, and debate over the featured dolls. When the premier loomed near, I bought advanced tickets.

This screening suggested a dress code: fuchsia or black. I picked out a black suit and brought my superhero doll Dana Scully from the X-files. My daughter came with me, adding to my excitement. This would be her very first cinematic experience. She wore a Barbie Mariposa dress. At three years old, I felt excited for her to witness my passion.

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As the room darkened and the film began, we held hands, feeling the enchantment together. Tears welled up in my eyes – a reflection of the overwhelming emotion I felt. At that moment, my daughter and I exchanged smiles and a wonderful energy coursed through my veins. Mascara stained my cheeks when we finally left the theater, a testament to the profound impact the experience had on me.

Through my collection of 300 Barbies, I also offer a message of female empowerment

To me, Barbie embodies female empowerment, and the brand has always captivated me. As a collector and Barbie enthusiast, I knew the movie was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and planned to see it multiple times, savoring every moment.

I own more than 300 Barbies from different eras, countries, and professions. The foundation of my collection includes what I call “The 26.” These are the 26 Barbies that survived my childhood, and their sets. Each one is unique and captures my history. Others in the collection, I purchased online, on trips, or received as gifts.

When you look over my collection you witness classic, vintage, modern, ethnic, themed, and special Barbies. Some remain in their original, unopened boxes, with others sit outside the box to be admired. Each Barbie has a story and a personality.

It feels amazing to share my collection with the public. I organize and participate in exhibitions in my province where I reveal the evolution of the doll since inception. By spreading the culture and art behind Barbie, I offer a message of female empowerment. Barbie remains an icon – an idea that women can be anything they want. The thought of it brings up a lot of connection and emotion for me.

My very first Barbie inspired my career as a journalist

To me, Barbie has always been more than a toy. I admire her versatility, beauty, and influence. Growing up, I viewed Barbie as a friend and an inspiration. My very first Barbie came to me at five years old. They handed her to me, and I slowly removed her from the box. I felt great surprise when I laid my eyes upon her purple dress, silver stole, and green eyes. I looked at the back of the box and, while I was just beginning to learn to read, I followed along with the printed letters.

When I looked at her, I saw a journalist or a television personality. It may not have been her intended profession, but it is what I saw. Like so many young girls, the stories of these dolls inspire us to chase our dreams. At five years old, as I played with my first Barbie, I dreamed of becoming the very journalist I am today.

That first Barbie remains on display in my exhibition in a special case because she means so much to me. My hobby of collecting these dolls has opened up a world of expression in my life. The process brings me happiness and allows me to create and learn. Money and quantity mean little to me. I focus on the quality and meaning of each of my dolls. I know one thing for certain – I will keep collecting as long as I can because Barbie remains an integral part of my identity.

The ins and outs of collecting and hosting my country’s first big Barbie Expo

In 2015 I began connecting with other collectors. Together, we materialized a dream we all shared from a young age. In April 2019, after a year of planning, we made that dream come true. We hosted the Expo Barbie 60 Years at the Centro Cultural America in Salta, Argentina.

This became the first event in Argentina showcasing the evolution of the doll over six decades. Walking through those aisles seeing the collections and the faces of the spectators meant the world to me. I identified with each and every person and witnessed them as they reentered their childhood.

The Toy Dream Show, as we call it, offered the opportunity to show others the most beloved objects from my formative years. Barbie shows me that, in all areas of life, we must seek to be reborn and return to childlike wonder. Barbie boasts collection lines for adults, which I never take out of the boxes when purchasing. The packaging itself tells the story of the figure inside and provides it with a unique environment.

On the other hand, the older Barbies from the 80s and 90s intended for children, often come out of the boxes for inspection before I add them to my collection. I check for stains, heat damage, cracked shoes, or fungus. I inspect the legs, hands, and feet for broken axes or melted rubber bands that hold the hairstyles together.

Barbie connects me back to my grandmother, and represents a diverse and inclusive future

Reconnecting with a beloved toy often links us back to the most magical moments of our childhoods. When I take this trip back in time, I remember my grandparents spoiling me. When I buy back a Barbie I owned and loved as a child, I open the box, feel the doll, and take her in with all my senses. It transports me back that Christmas day when my grandmother reached out her hand and gave me a package wrapped in paper covered in hearts.

I can hear her telling me, “When you tear that paper off, you will be happy!” As the pieces of paper fell to the floor, revealing this sparkling new Barbie, I melted into my grandmother’s embrace. Just thinking of it today, tears stream down my cheeks. It’s like a little patch on a piece of my soul.

María de los Ángeles Rojas attends the premier of the Barbie movie with her daughter and with friends and family.
María de los Ángeles Rojas attends the premier of the Barbie movie with her daughter and with friends and family. | Photo courtesy of Dream Team of Toys

Looking at my collection, each box catches the spirit of the era. It stirs up feelings from childhood where all I wanted to do was play. Today, my shelves have run out of space, but they remain filled with love and history; and collecting has filled my life with friendship.

Barbie emerged on the scene 64 years ago. She started out as a doll, but today she is much more than a toy. She represents an idea and a movement, and we can see how society evolved with her. Mattel has made Barbie one of the most diverse and inclusive brands in the world.

As a collector and a fan, to me Barbie represents real women – their dreams, their challenges, and their achievements. Synonymous with history, she has been passed down from generation to generation, and I believe she will always remain with us.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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