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21 Jul. 2023


How did the Barbie doll change from the 1950s to the movie premiere with Margot Robbie?

How did the Barbie doll change from the 1950s to the movie premiere with Margot Robbie?

Barbie is not only an iconic toy, but also a reflection of how society has evolved over the past 60 years. Find out how the most famous doll in the world has transformed over the past decades and why it has incorporated features of each era

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Barbara Millicent Roberts (Barbie doll) made her first public appearance on March 9, 1959, at a toy show in New York. She was a curvaceous blonde with her hair in a ponytail, whose face looked rather daring, and whose striped swimsuit emphasized her not at all childish figure. 

Photo: Ally Song / Reuters

Ruth Handler, one of the founders of Mattel and the creator of the iconic doll, was inspired to create Barbie after seeing Bild Lilly, an adult comic book character published by the German newspaper Bild Zeitung. 

And although the first public reaction to the doll was mixed, the company launched a successful advertising campaign that made Barbie a dream toy for girls around the world. In addition, Ruth Handler emphasized:

"Barbie's philosophy was to show girls that they could be anything they wanted to be. Barbie has always clearly shown that women have the right to choose." 

Thus, the doll has become not just the most famous toy in the world, but also a socio-cultural phenomenon that has absorbed the features of every era since the 50s and the feminist sentiments of each generation.

So, how the iconic toy has changed over the decades is described in our article.

The first changes: Barbie of the 1960s

In the 1960s, the company decided to expand its toy line, so Barbie got a boyfriend Ken, a friend Midge, a younger sister Skipper, and a black cousin Francie, and later the line of dolls was supplemented by an African-American woman Christy.

In addition, it was in the 60s that Barbie received a new, less flirtatious image and began to master professions. This is how nurses, teachers, flight attendants, fashion designers, singers, ballerinas, and even Barbie astronauts appeared on the market. At the same time, the company began to expand its line of additional accessories, and in addition to clothing, they began to sell "Barbie houses" and other attributes of doll life.

Photo: barbie.mattel.com

Barbie doll in 1970-1980

During this period, Barbie became an example of a strong feminist woman who not only builds a successful career but also reaches great heights, and at the same time leads an active lifestyle. Thus, the doll line has been expanded: Barbie the Olympic skiing champion, Barbie the pilot, Barbie the doctor, Barbie the businesswoman, Barbie the surfer, and Barbie the lead singer of a music band.

In addition, in the 1980s, the company launched a collection series of dolls whose outfits were created by world-famous brands, and the proceeds from the sales of Barbie in couture dresses went to charity.

Photo: Vogue UA

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Changing the image and figure: Barbie in 1990-2000

In the 90s, the company faced the first serious criticism about the doll's unrealistic figure and too frivolous image. So, having worked out the mistakes, Mattel modified the proportions of Barbie's body and, to the popular at the time, blondes in miniskirts that resembled the images of the popular singer Britney Spears, released Barbie, a presidential candidate who advocated for women's equality, as well as the first inclusive doll in a wheelchair, Becky, which was created to support children with special needs.

And at the beginning of the 21st century, Barbie received a "new face" with softer and more modern makeup, parted ways with Ken, and became not only the most coveted toy for girls, but also a new hero of cartoons and video games. 

Photo: Insider

Radical changes and body positivity: Barbie from 2010 to the present day

Due to the considerable amount of criticism about the promotion of unhealthy thinness and unrealistic body standards, the company decided to radically change its approach and released the first collection of dolls that included not just beautiful blondes, but girls with different body types, heights, volumes, and other body features. A little later, the collection was supplemented by dolls with inclusive body features (vitiligo, prosthetics, cancer, etc.).

Photo: Wikipedia

Later, the company began selling Barbie dolls based on the images of legendary women. Thus, dolls of Frida Kahlo, Madison de Rosario, Katherine Johnson, and many other famous women appeared on the market.

Thus, the changes that have taken place with Barbie from 1959 to the present day clearly show that social attitudes and the popularization of feminism have played a major role in creating the modern image of the doll. And most importantly, nowadays, the Barbie model line allows every child to find exactly the doll that will reflect their inner world, dreams and desires. 

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