JUDY ROGERS PICKS UP A DISEMBODIED head, ignoring its sightless, staring eyes. She slices it open with a scalpel and peers inside, then tosses the head onto a pile of rejects and reaches for another one.
Rogers is not a mad scientist, although the jumble of severed heads in her lab brings to mind a particularly ghastly horror movie. Call it Valley of the Dead Dolls. You see, these decapitation victims are Barbie dolls, and Rogers is a quality-control tester. When she puts the Barbies through the tortures of Torquemada, it’s just to ensure that their sisters can withstand the strong arms and teeth of 5-year-olds and will survive their 25-year life expectancy.
“If you’ve ever seen a child with a Barbie doll and a pair of scissors, you know the hair is going to go,” says Rogers, 49, a safety engineer for the Mattel Corp., Barbie’s manufacturer since 1959. So Rogers, who works at the company’s El Segundo, Calif., test lab, examines the hair for strength and durability. And, working with the first six dolls from every shipment, she also yanks Barbie’s limbs, pours sand on her, burns her hair and bakes her in simulated sunlight.
Rogers tests the corporation’s other dolls, too, but they don’t hold the same fascination for her. She has a collection of more than 2,000 Barbies in the ranch-style home she shares with her daughter Vicki, 28, and she often fields questions for Mattel about Barbie’s quirks from doll collectors all over the world. “I actually had a woman call me to ask if Midge and Barbie fought like sisters,” she says.
After Rogers is finished abusing the test Barbies—and sending back about 4 percent of the shipments for reworking—they aren’t in any shape to go in anyone’s toy chest. Instead, they are either smashed to pieces by sledgehammers and sent off to the dump, or they are put in a vat to be melted down and recycled. It may seem like sacrilege to Barbie’s fans, but, says Rogers, “No, we don’t have a burial ground.”