Barbie's Beginnings

8 March 2016

#NationalBarbieDay Barbie doll Ruth Handler Mattel National Barbie Day

Today is National Barbie Day (#NationalBarbieDay), a date marking the iconic doll's introduction to the world at the 1959 American International Toy Fair in New York.1 She has delighted young girls for decades and has become a fixture in American culture. In honor of her official birthday, lets explore how she came to be. Barbie is 57 years old today and doesn't she look great?

Barbie owes her existance to one Ruth Handler.2 Ruth was a co-founder of the Mattel toy corporation and she tried to convince her unmoved collegues an underserved market existed where little girls were besieged with babydolls but had nothing grown-up to play with.3  A straightforward quote from her 2002 obituary explains: ''Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future,'' Mrs. Handler said in a 1977 interview with The New YorkTimes. ''If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.''4 If you think that sounds edgy for the time, it doesn't compare to the saucier origin of Barbie: Lilli.

On a trip to Switzerland in 1956, Ruth's daughter Barbara wanted a Bild Lilli doll.5 This doll of German origin was based on a comic strip published in the newspaper Bild-Zeitung (Hamburg), it was sold as a naughty adult gag gift.6 Lilli represented a carefree cartoon character who wasn't afraid to use her sexuality to get her way.7 Lilli was a busty blonde bombshell with lots of makeup.8 Ruth took three of the dolls back to the U.S.,  redesigned them to be more wholesome and named the new dolls Barbie after her daughter.9

Initially, the dolls were only available in blonde and brunette, both caucasian.10 As society evolved, so did Barbie. The increasing number of women in the workforce was reflected in Barbie's appearance and eventually career accessories.11 There's Vet Barbie, Astronaut Barbie and a Barbie for every ethnicity.12 There are even Barbies that have babies.

Though Barbie still generates controversy among some on occassion (body image, materialism, Barbies having babies), it can also be said she inspired countless girls to think about their future and all the promise it holds. This was the dream of her creator, Ruth Handler, when she wrote in her autobiography, "My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.''13

Happy Birthday, Barbie!


1 Wikipedia. "Barbie," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbie: last modified  29 February 2016, at 00:11: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 5.
2 History.com staff, "Barbie Makes Her Debut," History.com (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/barbie-makes-her-debut: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 2.
3 Wikipedia. "Barbie," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbie: last modified  29 February 2016, at 00:11: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 3.
4 Kershaw, Sarah, "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85, " The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/29/arts/ruth-handler-whose-barbie-gave-dolls-curves-dies-at-85.html: published 29 April 2002: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 8.
5 Latson, Jennifer. "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," Time.com (http://time.com/3731483/barbie-history/: 9 March 2015 article: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 7.
6 Latson, "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," para. 2.
7 Latson, "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," para. 6.
8 Latson, "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," para. 4.
9 History.com staff, "Barbie Makes Her Debut," para. 3.
10 Wikipedia, "Barbie," para. 6.
11 History.com staff, "Barbie Makes Her Debut," para. 3.
12 Kershaw, "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85, " para. 10-11.
13 Kershaw,  "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85, " para. 13.

Barbie's Beginnings

8 March 2016

#NationalBarbieDay Barbie doll Ruth Handler Mattel National Barbie Day

Today is National Barbie Day (#NationalBarbieDay), a date marking the iconic doll's introduction to the world at the 1959 American International Toy Fair in New York.1 She has delighted young girls for decades and has become a fixture in American culture. In honor of her official birthday, lets explore how she came to be. Barbie is 57 years old today and doesn't she look great?

Barbie owes her existance to one Ruth Handler.2 Ruth was a co-founder of the Mattel toy corporation and she tried to convince her unmoved collegues an underserved market existed where little girls were besieged with babydolls but had nothing grown-up to play with.3  A straightforward quote from her 2002 obituary explains: ''Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future,'' Mrs. Handler said in a 1977 interview with The New YorkTimes. ''If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.''4 If you think that sounds edgy for the time, it doesn't compare to the saucier origin of Barbie: Lilli.

On a trip to Switzerland in 1956, Ruth's daughter Barbara wanted a Bild Lilli doll.5 This doll of German origin was based on a comic strip published in the newspaper Bild-Zeitung (Hamburg), it was sold as a naughty adult gag gift.6 Lilli represented a carefree cartoon character who wasn't afraid to use her sexuality to get her way.7 Lilli was a busty blonde bombshell with lots of makeup.8 Ruth took three of the dolls back to the U.S.,  redesigned them to be more wholesome and named the new dolls Barbie after her daughter.9

Initially, the dolls were only available in blonde and brunette, both caucasian.10 As society evolved, so did Barbie. The increasing number of women in the workforce was reflected in Barbie's appearance and eventually career accessories.11 There's Vet Barbie, Astronaut Barbie and a Barbie for every ethnicity.12 There are even Barbies that have babies.

Though Barbie still generates controversy among some on occassion (body image, materialism, Barbies having babies), it can also be said she inspired countless girls to think about their future and all the promise it holds. This was the dream of her creator, Ruth Handler, when she wrote in her autobiography, "My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.''13

Happy Birthday, Barbie!


1 Wikipedia. "Barbie," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbie: last modified  29 February 2016, at 00:11: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 5.
2 History.com staff, "Barbie Makes Her Debut," History.com (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/barbie-makes-her-debut: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 2.
3 Wikipedia. "Barbie," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbie: last modified  29 February 2016, at 00:11: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 3.
4 Kershaw, Sarah, "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85, " The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/29/arts/ruth-handler-whose-barbie-gave-dolls-curves-dies-at-85.html: published 29 April 2002: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 8.
5 Latson, Jennifer. "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," Time.com (http://time.com/3731483/barbie-history/: 9 March 2015 article: last accessed 8 March 2016), para. 7.
6 Latson, "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," para. 2.
7 Latson, "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," para. 6.
8 Latson, "The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins," para. 4.
9 History.com staff, "Barbie Makes Her Debut," para. 3.
10 Wikipedia, "Barbie," para. 6.
11 History.com staff, "Barbie Makes Her Debut," para. 3.
12 Kershaw, "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85, " para. 10-11.
13 Kershaw,  "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85, " para. 13.

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