Downtime

Two Outdated Institutions Join Forces, Make One Doll to Rule Us All

Thought people were done with the royals? Think again.

A Queen Elizabeth doll by Mattel in a royal ballroom.
Mattel

If you were asked to think of a celebrity who would logically inspire the manufacturing of a Barbie made in their image, the 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth II might not be the first person to jump to mind. But that is a mistake on the part of your imagination, as the British monarchy and Mattel are two of the world’s strongest brands, and whatever your feelings about them, it’s an iconic partnership.

If you don’t believe me, the numbers speak for themselves. The doll, which retails for $75, went on sale April 20, and sold out within a matter of hours. As of the writing of this article, Queen Elizabeth Barbies are reselling for a minimum of $300 on eBay. One person is selling magnets printed with an image of the doll in her box. QVC, which isn’t even one of the retailers selling the doll, is hosting a five page-long forum of people discussing the doll’s design. (Many of the posters take issue with the doll looking more like Helen Mirren than Queen Elizabeth, though one person writes, “I find the resolute set of the lips of ‘Barbie/Elizabeth’ to be rather eerily accurate—I’ve seen that expression over the years, on the current monarch.”)

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It’s difficult to quantify exactly how popular this makes the Queen Elizabeth II doll, in the scheme of all celebrity Barbies, but she seems poised to go down in history. British fashion model Twiggy was the first famous person to be made into a Barbie in 1967, and that doll is now a genuine collectible. Despite that, the now-antique Twiggy dolls are not currently reselling at the same prices as the Queen Elizabeth doll.

There have been too many celebrity Barbies to offer even an abbreviated list—Mattel has designed Barbie versions of everyone from Ida B. Wells to Bindie Irwin. The most expensive doll of a famous person seems to be the 2003 Marie Antoinette Barbie, designed by Bob Mackie, which routinely sells for over $2,000 on eBay. That long-gone queen is an outlier, though. With the exception of a relatively small set of celebrity dolls, most of these Barbies-made-from-people are still relatively affordable.

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The taxonomy of celebrity Barbies is complex. The company’s “Role Models” line contains “Inspiring Women,” which are historical figures, and “Sheroes,” which are modern-day famous women—though the distinction between a “Sheroe” and a plain old Role Model is honestly lost on me. And the symbolism of celebrity Barbie dolls’ relative market value is disquieting. It does not make me feel great to see that Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and Maya Angelou—members of the Inspiring Women series—all cost only $35 and are readily available, while Queen Elizabeth is on her rise to eternal Barbie stardom.

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One uncomfortable fact about the Role Models line is that only certain people’s dolls are manufactured for the market. All these women have at least one Barbie created in their likeness for the purposes of the partnership, but whether dolls from the Role Models line make it to stores seems mostly to do with how famous the person in question is. Naomi Osaka, Misty Copeland, and Chloe Kim were all made into legitimate, purchase-ready Barbies, but Polish truck driver and blogger Iwona Blecharczyk, another Role Model, was not. In some cases, the basis for these decisions is a little less clear: astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti’s Barbie is available for sale, but the Zendaya Barbie never materialized.

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The mess of trying to parse Mattel’s priorities aside, the success of the Queen Elizabeth doll makes a great amount of economic sense. There’s a long history of the making and selling of collectibles associated with the royal family. There are coins, and plates, and dinner bells; thimbles, and commemorative spoons, and Fabergé eggs. In the toy category, the most famous example is the Princess Diana Beanie Baby, which was released to raise money for Diana’s memorial fund in 1997. At one time these plushies were worth thousands of dollars.

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On top of all this track record, people really like Queen Elizabeth! Despite the Windsors’ recent drama—and young Brits’ general distrust of the monarchy—the Queen has managed to rise above the fray, at least in the public’s imagination. A 2020 poll found that 70 percent of people in Great Britain had a positive opinion of the Queen. Olivia Colman, who played her on The Crown, has called her the “ultimate feminist.” She is nostalgia personified.

But no matter how beloved Elizabeth is, there’s something simultaneously irritating and humorous about this nonagenarian (who, in real life, is rather hunched—as is only fair) moving units of a silver fox of a doll with a wrinkle-free face and a “Made to Move Petite” form. But you’ll stay much saner if you follow the example of Her Majesty: Let all the madness wash over you, and think of this as what it is: a very successful business deal.

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