“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.” –Ruth Handler
“I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world / Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!” –Aqua
Whether you love her or you hate her, you have got to admit that Barbie is an extremely important part of our culture. When Ruth Handler invented her way back in 1959, I don’t think there is any way she could have predicted the phenomenon the doll is now. Barbie has been playing alongside children for nearly 60 years now and is probably one of the biggest celebrities I can think of. There are Barbie movies, Barbie books, Barbie knock-offs, and the list goes on. It is probably safe to say that Barbie is a girl’s best friend.
For better or for worse, Barbie has taught young people many lessons. She has taught young girls that they can be anything—a doctor, an astronaut, a presidential candidate. She has taught kids how to make-believe, to play dress-up, and to perform more practical tasks like picking up dog poop or curling hair. Unfortunately, she has also taught some less desirable lessons, like that of societal beauty standards or how to live a materialistic lifestyle. There is a lot to be learned about Barbie, though, before making a judgement about her effect on today’s youth. This list has collected 42 playful facts about the celebrity doll that has shaped young girls’ childhoods, because whether you love her, you hate her, or you’re just plain intrigued by her, Barbie is a force to be reckoned with.
42. Like Daughter Like Mother
The Barbie and Ken we all know and love are a couple, but that’s not how it all started. The real-life Barbara and Kenneth are the names of Barbie’s creator’s children. Young Barbara was playing with paper dolls when her mom Ruth Handler got the idea for the Barbie doll. Dolls at the time tended to appear as children, even though Barbara liked putting them into adult situations, so Ruth thought there might be a market for an adult-build doll.
41. No Take-backs
Once the idea for this adult-looking doll was planted in Handler’s head, she found inspiration elsewhere on a trip to Germany. She bought three versions of the “Bild Lilli” doll—one for her daughter and two to bring back to Mattel. Even though Handler redesigned the German adult toy before sending Barbie to the market, Mattel was later sued for infringing the patent for Bild Lilli’s hip joint and for claiming Barbie had an “original” design.
40. But Blondes Have More Fun
Barbie wasn’t always a blonde. The first ever Barbie doll came in either a blonde or a brunette high ponytail. She also featured a stripey black and white one-piece, strapless bathing suit.
39. Face Change Head-on
Although Handler wanted Barbie to have an adult appearance for wholesome enough reasons, some parents weren’t too keen on it. They were unsure about one body part in particular: the doll’s large breasts. Barbie’s appearance has changed many times, although the breast size was not one of those changes. One important early change was from sideways glancing eyes to front-facing eyes. I certainly think the forward look is a more confident one on Barbie.
38. Hitting the Target Audience
Mattel pioneered a mostly television-based marketing strategy for Barbie, one of the first for an audience of children. It was successful enough that other toy companies followed suit.
37. Someone’s Popular!
Diamonds? I’m pretty sure Barbie is a girl’s best friend, actually. About three Barbie dolls are sold every second in over 150 different countries worldwide. That means over a billion Barbies have been purchased since their conception (and that’s just the doll, not including all of her accessories, sold separately of course).
36. Perfect for Play
1:6 scale, or “playscale,” is the scale at which many action figures and other toys are commercially created. Barbie and G.I. Joe standardized this toy scale, which is 12 inches to represent a 6 foot-tall real-life person.
35. Take a Warhol Home
Campbell’s soup cans aren’t the only thing Andy Warhol ever painted. The famous pop artist also painted a portrait of Barbie that sold for $1.1 million. Later, Mattel worked with the Andy Warhol Foundation to create an Andy Warhol Barbie doll.
34. Barbie’s a Bad Role Model
One of the phrases included in Teen Talk Barbie’s large repertoire was “Math class is tough!” Even though only about 1.5% of buyers received a Barbie doll that said this phrase, word got around and the phrase got a LOT of criticism. The demand was enough that Mattel removed the phrase from all Teen Talk Barbies and offered a replacement to anyone who currently had one with that phrase. I hate homework as much as the next guy, but really, Mattel?
33. Bad Hair Day
The Ken doll, or “Kenneth Sean Carson,” was created two years after Barbie came to be. His hair was originally made of felt, which was cute…at first. Until some proud owners of Ken dolls discovered his hair would fall out whenever it got wet. No pool parties for Ken! After this discovery, his hair was made of molded plastic.
32. Imagination, Life Is Your Creation!
The best-selling Barbie of all time is the “Totally Hair Barbie.” She was called that because her hair fell all the way down to her feet. Over 10 million of these were sold in the year it came onto the market. The Barbie brand has always been about creative potential, and I bet these dolls got a lot of creative hair cuts from eager young children!
31. Government Approved
Mattel must have many fashion consultants at this point, and that includes the actual Pentagon. This is because she has assumed so many military personas—the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps.
30. A Social Butterfly
It’s clear that Barbie is popular, but just how popular? Well, in the US alone, 99% of girls between three and 10 years have a Barbie. Between the ages three and six, the average number of Barbies owned by girls is 12.
29. A Horse, of Course
The first pet Barbie ever received was, you guessed it, a pony. Barbie is actually on good terms with animal rights activists at PETA, too: she has a continued fur-free existence. She even once owned a pet dog named Tanner that she treated quite well. He came with a pooper scooper and everything.
28. Looking Good!
Barbie’s (totally fake) hometown is Willows, Wisconsin, where she was born on March 9th, 1959, the day of her unveiling at the New York Toy Fair. That makes Barbie 59 years old as of 2018 and she STILL doesn’t look a day over 25!
27. Going Once, Going Twice, Gone
The first ever Barbie doll was sold for three dollars, but today a first edition Barbie doll can sell for as much as $27,450. The most expensive Barbie EVER, though, was made as a charitable item for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and sold for $302,500.
#YouCanBeAnything–including Instagram-famous. Barbie’s Insta-game is strong. On Instagram (@Barbie), she has well over a million followers and over 1,000 posts.
25. Ready for Her Close Up
Barbie has had over 180 careers, has represented over 40 different nationalities, and is in more than 45 different consumer product categories because of her widespread use. She’s also a big-time model. When she turned 50 years old, 50 of the world’s best fashion designers made her original looks for a runway show.
24. The Biography of Barbie
Random House published a book series about Barbie’s life not long after she came into the world. It provided her backstory, like her parents’ names: George and Margaret. They have never been rendered as dolls, though.
23. For Children’s Eyes Only
The woman who designed the Ken doll made him look like her husband. I wonder how she feels now that Ken is one of the most played-with bodies of the century. However, Ken’s you-know-what is censored by permanent underwear.
22. Barbie Might Have a Stalker…
A German woman named Bettina Dorfmann owns more than 15,000 different designs of Barbie, and has the Guinness World Record for biggest Barbie collection.
21. Best Thing Since Sliced Stamps
Doll collecting is the second most common collecting habit in the world, and is practiced by people of all genders and ages. The first most common is, of course, stamp collecting.
21. Cat AND Dog Person
Barbie’s house is virtually plastic zoo. She has had over 43 pets including many dogs, horses, ponies, and cats. She’s also had a more exotic array of animals including a parrot, zebra, lion cub, giraffe, chimpanzee, and panda.
20. The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway
Mattel may now be in competition for little girls’ attention with Frozen, but Barbie has over 30 movies made in which she is the star. So, who’s really winning here, Elsa?
19. Life in Plastic, It’s Fantastic!
Barbie is quite the shapeshifter. She has morphed into a huge number of celebrities over the years, including J.K. Rowling, Marilyn Monroe, Farrah Fawcett, Audrey Hepburn, Katniss Everdeen, Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry. And the list goes on and on and on. She’s even transformed into the King himself: Elvis Presley.
18. If the Clothes Fit
This juicy piece of gossip made the cover of Time magazine when it first emerged: You can now get Barbie in three new sizes. Barbie now also officially comes in a petite, tall, or curvy body type. The hard part isn’t mass manufacturing three differently sized plastic people, though, it’s finding a way to say “petite,” “tall,” and “curvy” in every language without offending anyone. And then dealing with the upset parents who have to buy three different sizes of Barbie clothing for the different dolls their kids own.
17. By Popular Demand
Being responsible for looking after Barbie is no easy task, and I don’t mean the doll—I mean the brand. The person in charge of the Barbie brand gets frequent threats and hate mail because of anger over Barbie’s body. It’s no wonder the company has been diversifying their dolls. Angry Barbie buyers may have some validity behind their frustration, too. In 2006, a study was published in Developmental Psychology that showed that girls who played with Barbie are more likely to be concerned with staying skinny than girls who played with different types of toys.
16. Celebrated Not Silenced
As young as six or seven years old, children expect their dolls to look a certain way, to assume a specific body shape. If that shape is inaccurate, then they tend to make fun of the doll. Mattel believes this is why it is important to diversify the dolls so that children will learn to accept all body types early on.
15. Picking Paint for the Dreamhouse
Barbie has her own shade of pink called, unsurprisingly, “Barbie pink.” It’s a Pantone color used in all of Barbie’s logos, promotional materials, packaging, etc.
14. The Road Wasn’t Easy
Ruth Handler has been heavily criticized for her ideas, just like Barbie has been for her body. When Handler first got the idea for Barbie and pitched it to her husband Elliot, who was a co-founder of the Mattel toy company, he wasn’t into it. Mattel’s directors also weren’t sure about the idea after that first pitch.
13. Not a Lonely Childhood
Barbie has had numerous plastic siblings over the years. Their names have been Skipper, Stacie, Chelsea, Krissy, Kelly, Tutti, and Todd.
12. Make Childhood Great Again!
Barbie has run for president six times, starting in 1992.
11. What Shall I Wear Today
More than 1 billion shoes have been designed for Barbie and 100 million yards of fabric have been used for her wardrobe. So Mattel is actually one of the biggest garment manufacturers in the world.
10. When in the Barbie Dreamhouse…
Barbie’s haters have not only criticized her absurdly skinny appearance, but also her influence on materialism and consumerism in youth. Evidence for the critique comes from Barbie’s upscale lifestyle and time spent shopping, which are said to affect the children of hard-working parents.
9. Celebrity Status
Barbie was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998. The hall recognizes toys that inspire creative play and have maintained popularity over a long period of time. And anyone can nominate a toy—who should be next?
8. An Odd Inheritance
There used to be a Barbie Doll Hall of Fame in Palo Alto, CA, but it has since closed down, after which Mattel bought the 21,000 Barbie dolls from the collection.
7. Slip Into Something More Comfortable
Most Barbie controversy surrounds her unrealistic body proportions, but Barbie was never designed to subject young girls to society’s impossible beauty expectations. In actuality, those proportions make her clothes slide on and off more easily.
6. Unrealistically Proportioned. Period.
If Barbie was a life-sized human, her chest would be 36,” her waist would be 16,” and her hips would be 33.” Adult women require 17-22 percent body fat to menstruate and, well, let’s just say Barbie is not getting a visit from Auntie Flow anytime soon.
5. Free the Nipple
The first Barbie models had breasts with nipples—at least something was anatomically correct—but those were deemed inappropriate on the children’s toy and were removed.
4. Leave the Heels at Home
For most of her history, Barbie has had no moving parts below her waist, which forces her to walk permanently on tiptoe. However, more recently she acquired (gasp!) ankles, allowing her to wear flats. Now, that’s a step up… er, down… in the world!
3. A Man of Many Talents
Handler had help when designing the Barbie doll. The man for the job, Jack Ryan, was not only a Mattel toy designer, but also a professional missile designer. Kind of a dark history for a Barbie doll!
2. Barbie’s a Lightweight
One of the early accessories you could get with your Barbie doll was a bathroom scale, which read her weight as permanently set at 110lbs (45kg).
1. Gotta Love an Accent
There was a point in time where things weren’t going so well for Barbie. She and Ken broke up. No crying and eating ice cream out of the tub for her, though, because she started dating a surfer dude named Blaine for a while. More specifically, an Australian boogie-boarder named Blaine. Eventually, Ken got more muscular, and Barbie went running back.
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