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I'm Barbie Girl in a Barbie World

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Barbara Millicent Roberts, commonly known as Barbie, was born on March 9th, 1959, in Los Angeles, California. She was the brain child of Ruth Handler, whose husband Elliot, was the co-founder of Mattel toys. When she proposed the idea of an adult doll, he and his team of toy designers declined the idea, stating that a doll with a mature figure in a market that only knew of baby dolls, wouldn’t sell.

Ruth refused to give up the idea, and while on vacation in Europe, she found a doll that both matched her vision, and was selling successfully. Called Bild Lilli, the German doll was originally sold to adults, and then became popular among young girls who enjoyed her many outfits and adventures. Ruth brought three Bild Lilli’s back to the United States, one for her daughter, Barbara, and two for Mattel.
Ruth and Elliot modified the design of the doll to fit modern American girls taste in beauty and fashion, and named it Barbie, after their daughter. Mattel soon gained the rights to Bild Lilli and immediately stopped her production to make way for Barbie.

On March 9th, 1959, Barbie was debuted at the American International Toy Fair. She was clothed in a black and white striped 50s style swimsuit, and wore her hair in the common and trendy topknot. She came in blonde and brunette and was marketed as a “Teenage Fashion Model”.

At the time of her release, the word “teenager” was considered new and sassy, thus her release drew a lot of attention from skeptical toy retailers. Eventually they came around and Barbie became a hit among girls. It is estimated that American girls have an average of eight Barbie’s each, and over 90% of woman over 50 have had at least one Barbie in their lifetime. In the first year of production, around 350,000 Barbie’s were sold.

Barbie’s early outfits were designed by Charlotte Johnson, but these days, famous designers from all around the world contribute ideas and designs. Originally, Barbie’s were made in Japan, and their clothing was hand-stitched by workers there. Because of rising manufacturing costs, and new mass production techniques, by the early 1980s all production facilities had been moved to China.

Ruth believed that Barbie’s adult appearance was the key to her selling success and, despite negative feedback from some parents stating that she was inappropriate for young girls, the doll’s shape didn’t change until the late 90s. Her face however, changed drastically over the years, most significantly in 1971 when her eyes were changed from looking off to the side, to looking straight ahead. In 1997, Mattel redesigned Barbie’s body mold to reflect more realistic proportions. Their reasoning behind this was that the low-rise “hipster jeans” trend wouldn’t fit on the narrow waist of Barbie. Also, the company had received many complaints that Barbie’s unrealistic size caused an up rise of anorexia in young girls.

Barbie and her accessories are sized to about 1/6th scale, commonly called playscale. If she was life sized, it is estimated that she would be about 5’9, have a waist of 18 inches, and would weigh 110 lbs, causing her to fall into the weight criteria for anorexia. Other research has shown that rather than simply multiplying by six, math equations and formulas should be used to reach a more accurate result, and she would actually be larger than a supermodel. “Barbie Baby-Sits” came with a book that explained how to lose weight. In one section it stated “Don’t eat” as a way to lose weight. The “Slumber Party” set also included this book as well as a scale set at 110 lbs, which would be about 35 lbs underweight for an average woman of 5 feet 9 inches.

Until Barbie, toys weren’t commonly advertised on television. To fill this gap in promotions, Mattel organized a mass television commercial campaign that revolutionized how toys were publicized. It is estimated that around the world, over a billion Barbie’s have been sold. Mattel claims that three Barbie’s are sold every second. Her products include dolls, clothes, animals, books, clothing, cosmetics, and video games. Barbie has also appeared in a series of original movies, remakes of princess stories including Rapunzel and Princess and the Pauper, as well as originals such as The Barbie Diaries, and Princess Charm School. She has also played a supporting role in Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3.

Barbie has become a cultural icon for her glitzy, worry free life, her fashion savvy clothing, and her ability to fit into any adventure a young girl can think up. She has become her own person with an on again off again boyfriend Ken, a best friend, Midge, and many other good friends. She has siblings, Todd and Tracie, Kelly, Stacie, and others. Barbie has had over 75 different occupations including a NASCAR driver, astronaut, veterinarian, sign language teacher, plastic surgeon, president, Canadian Mountie, and a photographer to name a few. She embodies the idea that a woman can be successful and independent, but still glamorous and fun.




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