You might be seeing a lot more pink than usual due to the Barbie movie release, but one Ottawa-based collector has been running a business out of the toy franchise for decades.
Elizabeth Kondruss has over 3,000 Barbie collectibles for viewing. Dolls, cars, houses — some over six decades old — are all on display in her Ottawa-based Barbie museum.
Kondruss got her first Barbie doll from her parents at nine years old, in 1965. It was Barbie’s now discontinued little sister, Tutti, who can be found in the museum. Kondruss began collecting toys from the franchise since then, and officially opened the museum at Stittsville’s Carp Road Flea Market in 1996.
“It’s been huge since 2021,” she told Global News in an interview.
For Kondruss, Barbie is more than a toy or movie. The doll represents a part of history.
“If you look through the ages of Barbie, it’s what we wore, it’s the sign of the times,” Kondruss said.
Kondruss says she often has visitors come into her museum not because they’re fans of Barbie, but because of the historical value of the collection.
Kondruss went to see Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie on Thursday — opening night. She says the film was “fantastic.”
“It’s not a Mattel Barbie commercial,” Kondruss said, referring to the toy franchise’s parent company.
“It’s a movie, it has a really interesting story… And there are some funny parts for us collectors.”
The trailers for the film sparked endless memes, Mattel partnered with more than 100 brands to market the movie, and embracing of the film’s aesthetic has caused #Barbiecore to trend for months on social media.
The film cashed in approximately $377 million globally on opening night, making it the second best start for a movie by a female director after Captain Marvel at $456.7 million.
The Barbie brand hasn’t always been met with such a positive embrace from consumers. Problems began as early as its conception in 1959 with a doll inspired by the Bild Lilli doll — a racy, buxom doll marketed to German men and sold in adult stores.
Over the years, the brand has faced scrutiny over the doll’s unrealistic proportions and been accused of perpetuating harmful beauty standards and gender stereotypes.
In 2000, doctors came out and said that a woman of Barbie’s weight, combined with her hip-waist-bust measurements, would not be able to stand up without tipping over, nor would she be able to menstruate.
“She’s a toy. It’s what you make of her,” Kondruss said in response to whether she’s surprised a Barbie movie hadn’t come out sooner. “You can create, you can imagine, you can have fun.”
The stars and director of the film, too, have painted the movie as a tongue-in-cheek look at Barbie’s history, the brand’s misfires, as well as the rhetoric surrounding the doll since her conception.
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In 1997, Mattel released Share-a-Smile Becky, who was the first friend of Barbie to use a wheelchair. It turned out that Becky’s chair couldn’t fit through the door or into the elevator of the Barbie Dream House, leaving her destined to sleep on the porch.
That same year, a collaboration project between Mattel and Nabisco resulted in a massive recall when it was brought to attention that “Oreo Fun Barbie” — a Black doll with an Oreo-branded outfit and cookie purse — was derogative to the Black community, as “Oreo” has been used as a racial slur.
Through a complicated combination of missteps, adults projecting various stereotypes and mores onto Barbie and a surge in alternatives in the doll market, Mattel was left with plummeting sales and interest in the Barbie brand by the mid-2010s.
Mattel told CNN its hope is that the Barbie movie will give its brand a boost. While sales for the doll were up during the pandemic, they slumped again in the first quarter of 2023.
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Kondruss says she embraces Mattel’s attempts of designing dolls more representative of real people, despite their hiccups.
“It doesn’t matter what body shape you are… what hairstyle you have, if you’re a cancer survivor, if you have a prosthetic limb… there’s a Barbie for all of it,” Kondruss says.
Even after retirement, Kondruss says the franchise will continue to be a big part of her life. She plans on opening one mega Barbie hub that would include a store, workshops and a display of her collectibles “like a huge city.”
“I can wake up in the morning and go play, design, decorate. That’s what I want to do.”
Kondruss says that Barbie acts as a reminder for adults to set aside time to decompress and even play.
“You have to relax, you have to play. It’s really hard sometimes to go ‘yes I’m allowed to sit down and put my feet up.’”
With files from Global News’ Touria Izri and Michelle Butterfield.
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