Barbie dolls have been around for over 40 years, and they’re just as popular today as they were in 1959.
Brief History of Barbie Dolls
In the 1950s, there were two types of dolls in America: two-dimensional paper dolls and cuddly baby dolls. A college-educated housewife named Ruth Handler bought a German fashion doll and was inspired to change the face of toys forever. The doll, Lilli, was fashionable and bendable, with brushable hair.
Deeply inspired by Lilli, Ruth gained a patent for her own fashion doll in 1958. The first doll was developed in 1959. Ruth and her husband, co-founders of toy giant Mattel, named the doll after their daughter Barbara. The doll’s little known full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.
Despite an initially luke-warm reception, the Handlers continued marketing Barbie. The earliest dolls sold for $3. Within two years, orderings were pouring in so fast that the Handlers could not keep up.
Ruth had decided early on that Barbie would be a hopeful and optimistic figure for young girls, empowering them to dream and reach for the stars. Early Barbies were “social butterflies,” and spent their time attending parties and playing tennis.
Ken was introduced in 1961 and was named after Ruth’s son.
Ever-Evolving Career Woman
After her beginnings as a woman of leisure, Barbie went to college and embarked on numerous careers. In a quest to show girls that they can truly achieve anything, Barbie has worked as the following:
Diversity in Barbie Dolls
Mattel has aimed to promote tolerance and diversity in its dolls, and Barbie is an excellent example of that. There are Barbie dolls representing several countries of the world, including China, Korea, and Holland. Barbie has also been depicted in a wheelchair and with varying disabilities. Just as there are working Barbies, there are also Barbie dolls in more traditional stay-at-home roles. Despite ongoing criticism for her impossibly curvaceous figure, numerous studies indicate that playing with Barbies can actually be good for a girl’s self-esteem.
Today’s Popular Styles
Today, some of the most popular Barbie dolls are also stars of the small- and big-screen. From the Disney princesses to the beloved Barbie movies, television inspired Barbies fill the store shelves. Some favorites include:
Barbie dolls are a favorite item among collectors. While some focus on vintage dolls, others prefer the modern-day Barbies. Mattel releases collectible-quality dolls each year. The Holiday Barbies and Barbies of the World are particularly popular. Recent releases include:
Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. In a series of novels published by Random House in the 1960s, her parents’ names are given as George and Margaret Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin.
In the Random House novels, Barbie attended Willows High School, while in in the Generation Girl books published by Golden Books in 1999 she attended the fictional Manhattan International High School in New York City (based on the real-life Stuyvesant High School). She has an on-off romantic relationship with her boyfriend Ken (Ken Carson), who first appeared in 1961. A news release from Mattel in February 2004 announced that Barbie and Ken had decided to split up, but in February 2006 they were back together again.
Barbie has had over forty pets including cats and dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. She has owned a wide range of vehicles, including pink Corvette convertibles, trailers and jeeps. She also holds a pilot‘s license, and operates commercial airliners in addition to serving as a flight attendant. Barbie’s careers are designed to show that women can take on a variety of roles in life, and the doll has been sold with a wide range of titles including Miss Astronaut Barbie (1965), Doctor Barbie (1988) and Nascar Barbie (1998).
Mattel has created a range of companions for Barbie, including Hispanic Teresa, Midge, African American Christie and Steven (Christie’s boyfriend). Barbie’s siblings and cousins were also created including Skipper, Tutti (Todd’s twin sister), Todd (Tutti’s and Stacie’s twin brother), Stacie (Todd’s twin sister), Kelly, Krissy, Francie, and Jazzie.
BARBIE dolls, the rite of passage for many young girls, may contribute to eating disorders in adolescence, according to new research.
The study found that the Barbie dolls, which are far thinner than traditional shapes, particularly at the waist, make girls want to be unrealistically slim when they grow up.
The researchers from two British universities claim Barbie dolls could promote girls’ insecurity about their image which in turn may contribute indirectly to insecurity and eating disorders later in life.
They say the study is the first to identify body worries in such young children. “This [study] demonstrates that it is not body-related information conveyed by dolls per se that has a direct impact on young girls’ body image, but by Barbie dolls specifically, which represent a distortedly thin body ideal,” says the study, led by Helga Dittmar, reader in psychology at Sussex University.
“These ultra-thin images not only lowered young girls’ body esteem but also decreased their satisfaction with their actual body size, making them desire a thinner body.”
Dr Margaret Ashwell, science consultant and former director of the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “These results are very important and show that children can be influenced at a very early age. We need to be aware of that and take the appropriate action.”
The researchers say their findings suggest schools should educate the youngest children, as well as adolescents, about the risks of being too worried about having an “ideally” thin body shape. “Such programmes need to make girls aware that the thin beauty ideal is unattainable and unhealthy,” adds the study.
The researchers claim that fewer than one in 100,000 women has the thin body shape of the Barbie doll.
In the study, reported in the journal Developmental Psychology, the researchers from Sussex and the University of the West of England looked at the effects of images of two dolls on almost 200 primary school-age girls aged five to eight.
They were shown images of different figures, including Barbie and Emme, a new American doll whose body proportions represent a larger body shape.
After they had been shown the images, the girls were asked to pick figures that represented their actual body shape, the body shape they ideally desired and their ideal body shape as an adult woman.
The difference between the shape girls thought they had and the shape they wanted was then analysed. The results showed that girls aged five to six were more dissatisfied with their shape and wanted more extreme thinness after seeing Barbie doll images than after seeing other pictures. For those aged six to seven the negative effects were even stronger.
A spokesman for Mattel, which manufactures Barbie, said: “Barbie allows girls to dream that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. Barbie is not modelled in human scale and we will continue to talk to girls and mums and monitor their opinions.”
Additional reporting: Laura St Quinton