Yona Zeldis McDonough '79 held a signing of her book, The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns 40 in the College Store.  In a 1998 essay in The New York Times Magazine, “What Barbie Really Taught Me: Lessons from the Playroom, Both Naughty and Nice,” Zeldis recalled the plastic bombshell’s influence on her as a child and the doll’s coincident power over her with that of her mother.  “My mother,” she wrote, “not an 11½ -inch doll, was the most powerful female role model in my life.  What she thought of Barbie I really don’t know, but she had the good sense to back off and let me use the doll my own way.”  Reflecting on Barbie’s current “‘serious’ incarnations: teacher, Olympic athlete, dentist” and “later this year…a doll whose breasts and hips will be smaller and whose waist will be thicker, thus reflecting a more real…female body,” McDonough concluded, “Girls will still know the reason they love her, a reason that has nothing to do with new professions or a subtly amended figure.”

Readers’ and friends’ response to the essay prompted McDonough’s book, a collection of essays and poems about the toy from nearly two dozen authors—men and women.  Historian and activist Stephanie Coontz contributed “Golden Oldie,” a comprehensive history of Barbie. In “Barbie at 35,” novelist and essayist Anna Quindlen conceded that although she refused to let her daughter have the doll, “Barbie—the issue, not the doll—simply will not be put to rest.”  “My theory,” Quindlen declared, “is that to get rid of Barbie you’d have to drive a silver stake though her plastic heart.  Or a silver lamé stake, the sort of thing that might accompany Barbie’s Dream Tent.” 

Williams College art historian Carol Ockman contributed “Barbie Meets Bouguereau,” social commentator and chronicler of the “culture wars” Steven C. Dubin inquired “Who’s That Girl,” novelist Jane Smiley ’71 wrote “You Can Never Have Too Many” and McDonough examined “Sex and the Single Doll.”