0. While thinking back to their childhood and reminiscing on their most prized possessions, many adults will have fond memories of their first Barbie doll. Whether they had one or several, these dolls played a large role in a child aged three to seven’s playtime. Despite some criticism over the years, as a result of society’s ever-changing values and norms, there is no doubt that Barbie is a household name to children in all cultures.
1. Barbara Millicent Roberts, who is more affectionately known as Barbie came to be in 1959, when the toy giant, Mattel, launched what would become their best-selling product. However, the first Barbie doll looked a bit different than the wide variety of ones we may see in a shop today. Rather, the only variation of the original figure was a white woman, which came as either a blonde or a brunette. Regardless of the hair colour, the doll donned a memorable black and white zebra-print swimsuit and her body type was modelled after the glamourous actresses of the 1950s. In the first year alone, Mattel sold over 300, 000 dolls at an approximate price of $3.00 USD a piece.
2. Though the majority of dolls at the time of Barbie’s origins resembled a baby or infant, Ruth Handler, the creator of the doll, detected a gap in the market. Her daughter, who is Barbie’s namesake, found more enjoyment in creating her own paper dolls and assigning them adult jobs and duties. Handler took the opportunity to market her daughter’s playtime ritual by manufacturing a doll who went to work, so to speak. In fact, Barbie has been known to hold over 200 careers, to date. From an art-teacher to a dentist to an astronaut, Barbie has represented a wide range of fields that help children to dream big. Let’s look at the example of a 1990s iteration, a presidential candidate, who came two decades before the first female Vice President of the United States. What’s more is that Barbies today are increasingly being portrayed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), a field that notoriously only employs twenty-five percent women.
3. It is said life is lonely without having anyone to share it with. For that reason, Mattel introduced Ken, a male partner for Barbie two years after her inauguration. Although Barbie and Ken seemed to be the ultimate couple, the duo publicly ‘broke up’ in the 2000s. In spite of that, recognizing that young woman needs more than just a romantic partner, Barbie’s best friend Midge, and her younger sister, Skipper joined Barbie in her adventures. They were the first female companions. Over the years, various younger siblings and friends have been available for purchase as well.
4. As Barbie’s fame continued to grow, the need for dolls beyond the blonde-hair blue-eyed demographic became a pressing urge. In 1968, Barbie’s first African-American friend, Christie, became available, becoming one of the first Black dolls to hit the market. However, it took about two decades before the first Hispanic and Black Barbie main characters were introduced in 1980. Today, one can find an international Barbie Doll from almost every country of the world, decked out in the culture’s traditional clothes or costumes.
5. Beyond its efforts to be more culturally and racially conscious, Mattel understood that in order to be all-encompassing, they must continue to make adaptations and grow with their line. A widespread criticism of the brand by society has been Barbie’s unattainable and unrealistic body measurements. In attempt to rectify this, the doll became available in more body types in 2016. These curvy, petite and tall figures were introduced in hopes of showing young girls that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, boosting their self-esteem. These variations also include different hair textures, facial features and skin tones.
6. It would be naïve to think that Mattel just stopped at the creation of dolls. No sooner did Barbie make friends or come in different cultural forms than she had a house to live in and a car to drive. The Barbie Dreamhouse was introduced in 1962, which makes sense considering Barbie and Ken’s joint union. Since then, every few years, a new house hits the market, and Barbie has the option of living in a modern townhouse or a mansion. Today, a variation of this coveted toy is sold every two minutes. To get around in style, Barbie has been spotted in vehicles from a cool sports car to a jeep. Notwithstanding all of the outfits, accessories, and pets sold separately, the world of Barbie is one of consumption.
7. With its movement towards inclusivity, it is likely that the Barbie’s longstanding heritage as a child’s favourite toy will continue to live on. By breaking down gender and cultural stereotypes, Barbie is being played with by a wider range of people than ever before. Moreover, Mattel has expanded the Barbie franchise into the online realm, with virtual games representing Barbie’s character in varying storylines. Irrespective of where the brand goes next, it is no doubt that Barbie will try to stay relevant in the future.