It seems very apt that Barbie, the popular fashion doll by Mattel, celebrates its anniversary the same weekend as International Women’s Day, for the toy has been an icon for young girls and women alike. This year, Barbie reaches an even bigger milestone – she turns 60, and still has no signs of wrinkles.
Since debuting at the American Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold, with an estimated 58 million sold annually in more than 150 countries. “In an industry where success today is three to five years, 60 years is a huge deal!” said Nathan Baynard, director of global brand marketing for Barbie.
Barbie was invented by Ruth Handler, one of Mattel’s co-founders, who drew inspiration from her daughter Barbara (whom the doll is named after). The doll even has a proper identity – Barbie Millicent Roberts, from the fictional town of Willows in the Midwest.
“Her daughter was limited in the choices of her toys – the only ones were baby dolls,” Baynard recounted, “The only role she could imagine through that play was caregiver, mother, whereas her son (Kenneth) could imagine being an astronaut, cowboy, pilot, surgeon.”
Baynard also said that the doll was supposed to teach girls “that they had choices, that they could be anything. In 1959, it was a radical idea!” And Barbie was an instant success; in just her first year, 300,000 dolls were sold.
True enough, Barbie continues to be a favorite for many girls amidst all the controversies she has faced. Most heated among these issues was her unrealistic pinup measurements. “In 1959, her body structure was exaggerated to match the aesthetics of the time and the fabric available,” said Barbie designer Carlyle Nuera.
Still Barbie thrived through the years, changing appearances & outfits to accommodate and represent women of all kinds and their aspirations. She has been blonde and brunette, slender and curvy, a princess, a president, even a zoologist, and so much more.
In 1965, four years before Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, Barbie became an astronaut. In 1968, the first black Barbie doll, a friend named Christie, hit store shelves. To date, according to Barbie’s senior vice president and global general manager Lisa McKnight, 55% of the dolls sold around the world have neither the blonde hair nor blue eyes that Barbie is popularly known for.
A global icon and influencer
Barbie has grown to become a universal household name, on par with the likes of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. She has even adapted to the times and earned a massive social media presence with millions of followers.
Last year, the brand launched a sweeping campaign to help young girls close the so-called “Dream Gap” – using Barbie to teach them to believe in themselves, and not to buy into sexist gender stereotypes.
“The narrative of the Barbie brand is that she’s a young woman and she’s independent and pursuing careers,” McKnight said. For 60 years now, Barbie has been inspiring girls to be anything, breaking every possible barrier. As she has done in the past, she will carry on to spark that inspiration of limitless potential for years to come.
Story and photos from AP & AFP.