Barbie: From Humble Beginnings to a Global Phenomenon

Nylon, PVC, synthetic fiber, chlorine, and elastomer. These are some of the physical components that make up a Barbie doll. However, Barbie is much more than a mere plastic figure. Since the brand’s genesis in 1959, Barbie has been massively influential on popular culture and societal views of women. With the release of the smash-hit blockbuster Barbie movie this summer, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, the brand’s influence only continues to grow. Critics have claimed that the doll imposes unrealistic standards on women. Others insist that Barbie has long been a source of uplift and empowerment for women. But what is the actual history of the Barbie brand?

The very first Barbie doll made its debut in March of 1959. This Barbie doll wore a black-and-white-striped one piece swimsuit with a chic pair of white sunglasses perched on a perfectly styled ponytail. Immediately at the time of its release, the doll was already breaking social norms. Barbie was an anomaly in the toy market; it was the only toy geared towards girls that wasn’t in some way emphasizing childcare and maternal instincts. Three years after the release of Barbie came the introduction of the Barbie Dreamhouse. Once again, just by the architecture of the structure, Barbie was changing standards. Although it had countless rooms and amenities, the Barbie Dreamhouse did not have a kitchen. This might not make today’s world even bat an eye, but the omission of a kitchen in the Barbie Dreamhouse was making a profound statement during an era in which the kitchen was viewed as a woman’s place.

As the brand evolved, there were some dubious iterations of Barbie. The 1965 Slumber Party Barbie came with a scale set to 110 pounds and a book entitled How To Lose Weight with a solitary piece of advice inside: “Don’t Eat”. In 1975, the Growing Up Skipper Barbie was released. Advertised as a doll that grew from a girl to a teenager, the doll only actually grew in the bust. The Teen Talk Barbie, released in 1992, spoke phrases at the push of a button (“math class is tough, let’s go shopping”). Between the 250+ dolls that have been released since 1959, Barbie has had its fair share of controversy. However, the brand has been a force for good far more than it has promoted questionable ideals. Throughout the past 64 years, Barbie has endeavored as a doctor, astronaut, surgeon, lawyer, president, and more. She has occupied careers that previously no women had dared to dream of. As the brand’s website says, Barbie inspires “the limitless potential in every girl”. 


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