What is Barbie's controversial new career

Barbie, an eternally controversial fictional character, actually as ageless as Homer Simpson, the epitome of all plastic clichés, is turning 60. On March 9, 1959, the first doll was presented in New York. Often scourged as an anorectic sex object, she is now also available in supposedly "curvy" versions, as a robot engineer and with a hijab. Bettina Dorfmann, 58, owns 18,000 of these dolls. She runs a doll clinic in Düsseldorf and has made it into the Guinness Book of Records with her collection.

SZ: Ms. Dorfmann, why do you dedicate your life to a plastic doll?

Bettina Dorfmann: Barbie reminds me of my childhood. I have no siblings and played with her a lot. You can crochet for her, give her different roles, build apartments for her. My parents gave me my first Barbie, her name was Midge, to start school. I liked them right away and then wished one for my birthday, for Christmas. Until I had 28 pieces. At some point they ended up in the basement. But when my daughter was three I dug her out again.

And, could she do anything with it?

She was still too small. And the Barbies were too old-fashioned: One even had a record player. But I rediscovered my old love for Barbie. So I repaired the old dolls, went to collectors' fairs and realized that the new Barbies are also a mirror of our time - and that they have a lot of topics. You always think it's just a doll that you put on and take off. But that's not what it is.

She is not?

She has a high school diploma. She has jobs right up to president and chancellor, has flown to the moon, studied dentistry. There are wheelchair Barbies, Army Barbies, Marylin Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Harry Potter.

And for some time now there is no longer just the blonde, white Barbie, she is an engineer and no longer quite so thin. But it is and remains a doll that has to be pretty and undicky.

That's what people who don't care about it always say. In Germany, people like to do that: condemn Barbie. Baby dolls of today also have huge heads and would not be viable in real life. Nobody cares, they just keep saying: Barbie is blonde and stupid. Go to a Barbie purse, there is nobody there who can be operated on, or who is starving, or who wants to look like a doll. In Ratingen I am organizing an exhibition, "Busy Girl - Barbie Makes a Career", about the professional activity of women from 1959 until today. And there you can see that Barbie is not just a doll. She was always in life.

So Barbies aren't misogynistic?

On the contrary. Barbie can be anything, she is emancipated and can do any job she wants. I am for equality and have always been annoyed that as a woman you have to do twice as much to be successful.

And today they own 18,000 pieces.

But I don't all have them at home, some are in the museum, and I have loaned a few. And my house in Düsseldorf is actually a museum too, I offer tours and restore old dolls there, I have a Barbie room and three storage rooms outside. I spend a lot of time on file sharing sites and meet other collectors. And to fight another cliché: just as many men as women come there, albeit sometimes secretly. Most people look for their childhood in the Barbies, the zeitgeist of that time, the fashion from the seventies, sometimes dolls change hands for 8,000 euros. My favorite is from 1967, from the flower power era.

So Barbie is your job. Can you make a living from it?

You can, but not very dissolute. You sometimes sit for hours at a barbie with hair loss - and I do it with all my heart and soul.

Are you celebrating Barbie's sixtieth?

No, I am very matter-of-fact when dealing with dolls, for me they are collectibles. I have never tried to look like a Barbie, nor do I name the 18,000 dolls. There are collectors who always have their Barbie suitcase with them and play with them, they move. But I'll be on a barbie fair on her birthday in Paris. To check out new barbies.