Remember 1999? SpongeBob SquarePants premiered for the first time. President Bill Clinton was impeached and acquitted. And, of course, Polaroid released its iconic Barbie camera! It was truly a time to be alive. Sure, there was Y2K, but I was 5 years old and blissfully unaware of all the drama.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic madness this past month, when I was scared and beginning to shelter in place, I saw an ad for a limited-edition retro Barbie Polaroid camera, inspired by the original model from ‘99. Hours later, my sisters pinged me with a link to it too. Our Barbie-filled childhoods were calling.
I needed something to lift my spirits, and that just so happened to come in bright pink, green, and purple packaging.
Barbie—who recently turned 61 and was on a 60th anniversary Totally Throwback Tour until the pandemic put it on pause—was a huge part of my late ‘90s, early ‘00s adolescence. As the youngest of four children, and about half a decade behind my siblings (who were all close in age), I spent a lot of time playing by myself. They never intentionally left me out, but they had lots of cool older-kid things to do. When I was alone, I relied on that box of Barbies. We had classic Barbies, Spice Girl Barbies—even a Beach Barbie that sat on a shelf in its original box. And we had a wonderful time together. I brushed (and poorly cut) their hair, put on fashion shows, took them swimming in the tub, and lost every tiny damn shoe they ever wore.
My love for Polaroid cameras (and all photography) came in adulthood after I found a 1977 Polaroid One Step Land Camera in an antique store. It reminded me just how fun their loud shutter noise was and the surprising gratification you get when that big square photo prints out and slowly develops before your eyes. It inspired me to begin collecting other old film cameras.
More Than Just Nostalgia
The new Polaroid 600 Barbie Throwback camera ($149) doesn’t just look like an old Polaroid. It kinda is one. The camera’s internals are made from original Polaroid electronics that have been refurbished and tested by Retrospekt, a vintage-product restoration company, housed in a new plastic exterior that is just slightly updated from the ‘99 version. No batteries are needed, as they’re built into each film pack. (It takes an eight-pack of 600 film in color or black and white.) Unlike some of the other instant cameras released today, it produces the full-size photos you’ll remember from yesteryear.