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
Ruth Handler watched her daughter Barbara at play with paper dolls, and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. At the time, most children’s toy dolls were representations of infants. Realizing that there could be a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company. He was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel’s directors.
During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler came across German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Die Bild-Zeitung. Lilli was a working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to babies, it became popular with adults who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.
Upon her return to the United States, Handler reworked the design of the doll (with help from engineer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler’s daughter Barbara. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. This date is also used as Barbie’s official birthday.
Mattel acquired the rights to the Bild Lilli doll in 1964 and production of Lilli was stopped. The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model,” with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.
Ruth Handler believed that it was important for Barbie to have an adult appearance, and early market research showed that some parents were unhappy about the doll’s chest, which had distinct breasts. Barbie’s appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll’s eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model.
Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television and advertising, which has been copied widely by other toys. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.
The standard range of Barbie dolls and related accessories are manufactured to approximately 1/6th scale, which is also known as playscale. Barbie products include not only the range of dolls with their clothes and accessories, but also a huge range of Barbie branded goods such as books, fashion items and video games. Barbie has appeared in a series of animated films and made a brief guest appearance in the 1999 film Toy Story 2.
Barbie has become a cultural icon and has been given honors that are rare in the toy world. In 1974 a section of Times Square in New York City was renamed Barbie Boulevard for a week, In 1985 the artist Andy Warhol created a painting of Barbie.