"I once dated a girl named Barbie.
Coincidentally she was mostly plastic too."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
a successful businesswoman, a member of a rock band and a Women's
World Cup Soccer player. Who is this superstar? It's none other than
Barbie doll. A little hard to believe, but the Barbie Doll started
out as a human being! She was Barbara Handler, the daughter of Ruth
and Elliot Handler.
In the early 1950s, Handler saw that her
young daughter, Barbara, and her girlfriends enjoyed playing with
adult female dolls as much or more than with baby dolls. Handler
sensed that it was just as important for girls to imagine what they
themselves might grow up to become as it was for them to focus on
what caring for children might be like.
Because all the adult dolls then available
were made of paper or cardboard, Handler decided to create a three-dimensional
adult female doll, one lifelike enough to serve as an inspiration
for her daughter's dreams of her future. Handler took her idea to the
ad executives at Mattel Corp., the company that she and her husband,
Elliot, had founded in their garage some years before: the (all-male)
committee rejected the idea as too expensive, and with little
potential for wide market appeal.
Soon thereafter, Handler returned from a
trip to Europe with a "Lilli" doll, modeled after a
character in a German comic strip. Handler spent some time designing
a doll similar to Lilli, and even hired a designer to make realistic
doll clothes. The result was the Barbie doll (named in honor of the
Handlers' daughter), a pint-sized model of the "girl next door."
Mattel finally agreed to back Handler's
efforts; and the Barbie doll debuted at the American Toy Fair in New
York City in 1959. Girls clamored for the doll, and Barbie set a new
sales record for Mattel its first year on the market (351,000 dolls,
at $3 each). Since then, Barbie's popularity has rarely flagged; and
today, with over one billion dolls sold, the Barbie product line is
the most successful in the history of the toy industry.
The first Barbie doll sported a ponytail
hairstyle, black and white zebra-striped bathing suit, open-toed
shoes, sunglasses and earrings. A line of fashions and accessories
was also available. Buyers at the industrys annual Toy Fair in
New York were not impressed, but little girls certainly were and the
Barbie doll took retailers by storm. Mattel was so swamped with
orders that it took several years for supply to catch up with demand.
A Classic Commercial for Barbie's Dream House from the 1960s
The Barbie doll was introduced as a
teenage fashion model, but in the years that followed she has taken
on many aspirational roles. She has tackled almost every conceivable
profession, including dentist, doctor, firefighter, astronaut,
paleontologisteven Presidential candidate.
The Barbie doll has been joined by friends
and family over the years, including the Ken dollnamed for the
Handlers sonin 1961, Midge in 1963, Skipper in 1965 and
Christiean African-American doll and the first of many ethnic
friendsin 1968. More recently, in 1995, the Barbie doll gained
a little sister, Baby Sister Kelly, and, in 1997, a disabled friend
in a wheelchair, Share a Smile Becky. Barbie doll is further
expanding her versatile and limitless roles to inspire girls' dreams
for years to come.
The world of the Barbie® doll today is
a great deal more than a doll and accessories. Barbie doll is keeping
in step by allowing girls to use their computers to program and
personalize their Barbie doll and design, create, play and dream
using Barbie software. The Barbie line has also developed into
a broad array of exciting licensed products for girls, including
books, apparel, food, home furnishings and home electronics.
From the beginning, Barbie has also had
her critics: the major accusation, from feminists and others, has
been that she reinforces sexism, representing a young woman with
questionable intelligence and a near-impossible physique. The late
60s even saw the creation of the "Barbie Liberation
Organization," after Mattel introduced "Ken", as
Barbie's "handsome steady."
Despite such criticisms, playing with
Barbie dolls seems as a rule to enhance girls' self-image and expand
their sense of their potential rather than the opposite. This has
become more true over the years, as Barbie herself has expanded her
horizons: she has now appeared as a doctor, astronaut, business
woman, police officer, UNICEF volunteer, and athlete. Over the years,
Barbie has achieved the title of the most popular fashion doll ever created.