Barbie Doll, a Toy and a Phenomenon

Who is Barbie Doll, the toy and the phenomenon? Once we were two little girls, then we grew up and became Art Historians. But the memories of playing with Barbie Dolls stayed with us. Meanwhile we wrote countless pages of texts about images, artworks, and all kind of phenomena. Now this is the time to give some credits to our beloved Barbie doll.

The name

Although her name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, she is widely famous as Barbie. “Born” in New York City on 9th of March, 1959, she has been a global icon for the past 62 years. Through her story, we saw many esthetic, cultural, and anthropological social changes. 

Ruth Handler with her toys. Source: Pinterest post

Family Business

Ruth Handler, American entrepreneur who owned the toy manufacturing company Mattel, designed a new doll and presented her at the toy fair in New York. It was a family business in which Ruth worked with her husband and gave the doll her daughter’s name, Barbara, shortened into Barbie. In fact, the day when they presented the doll is considered Barbie’s birthday.

Barbie Doll
First Barbie doll, ever. Source: Vogue

The inspiration for the Barbie doll was also rooted in the family feelings. Ruth believed that her daughter had a limited choice of toys, specially dolls, so she was motivated to create a new one, inspired by the German doll Bild Lilli.

Engineering the Barbie Doll

Further, Barbie is a product of fine engineering. After Ruth designed the concept she hired Jack Ryan, engineer experienced in the earliest spaceship construction and the highest quality materials. He is the one who made it possible for Barbie to bend her waist and knees.  

Barbie Doll patent
Barbie Doll Pantent (1961). Source:

The guy named Ken

Initially, Barbie was designed as a teenage fashion model, and she came in two hair colors, blonde and brown. The blonde version prevailed in popularity later on. Barbie’s boyfriend Ken showed up two years later, named after the inventor’s son Kenet. 

Barbie and Ken
Barbie and Ken (1962). Source:

Controversies around the beloved Barbie Doll

The main criticism about the doll was her body shape. Her blonde, plastic, very thin figure has caused worries that it influences the girls who develop eating disorders such as anorexia. However, Barbie’s body shape changed as the year passed and many new models were developed. As of 2016, three body types are available: tall, petite, and curvy.

Barbie Doll Malibu
Malibu Barbie Doll (1971). Source:

In reality, the controversies were caused by one of the editions. The “Barbie at the pijama party” model came with advices for losing weight, suggesting “don’t eat at all”, along with a scale indicating the “ideal weight” that was in fact an unhealthy one.

Women’s Rights

On the other hand, the concept of Barbie influenced many good, positive changes in the field of women’s rights and human rights in general. Ruth Handler once stated that with Barbie, she wanted to show that every girl had the right to be whatever she wanted. “Barbie has always represented the fact that the woman has a choice”, according to the creator.

Additionally, in the context of women’s right, Barbie is an important figure in illustrating professions in which women started being present. Likewise, the astronaut Barbie was an illustration of the space travel revolution.

Barbie astronaut (1965). Source:

In the 90s, Barbie’s ensembles further intensified their fight against stereotypes. The Barbie as a pilot and firefighter were some of the examples. In 2016, Barbie also became a game developer and a President of Republic. 

Barbie pink
Barbie pink, PMS 219 C. Source:

Finally, a curious fact is that the authentic Barbie pink color is a registered nuance of pink in the Pantone system under the code PMS 219 C. 

There will be a second part of this story. We’ll release it some day in the first half of March, during the women’s history month, covering more social and fun stories about Barbie. Stay tuned!

Continue reading on Fun Museums: Memo, the museum where Good Memories come back to life

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