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Barbie Dolls: The History of the Iconic Toy

Barbie, who first appeared as a teenage fashion model in a 1960 edition of Teenage Magazine, is the world’s most famous doll. She has been given various different names over the years including ‘Barbie’ and ‘Barbie Doll’, but she has always remained an iconic toy with huge popularity. She was the first toy ever advertised on television and was originally intended to be a substitute for the baby doll for girls who weren’t yet old enough to play with dolls. Little girls everywhere were quick to discover that Barbie was so much more. What they discovered was a friend with endless possibilities. Barbie has always been at the forefront of play. She has inspired generations of girls and continues to change the way we think about playtime. As the years go by, Barbie remains a staple of childhood and a favourite among children of all ages. Let’s take a look at her history...


Barbie’s First Job: Teen Fashion Model

Most of us remember playing with Barbies, but did you know that the original Barbie was meant to be a fashion model? Barbie was first published in March of 1959 and was modelled as a teenage fashion model. The early Barbie was much skinnier and taller than she is now and her body proportions were different too. The Barbie doll was first introduced to the public at the New York Toy Fair. In the early years, the Barbie doll was marketed as a Teen Age Fashion Model. The very first Barbies were dressed in a blue and white striped sleeveless dress with a mushroom collar, a white petticoat, and blue pancake makeup. The box that Barbies came in had a window cut into it so that girls could see what the doll looked like. The original Barbie dolls didn’t have any footwear, and girls could choose to give their Barbies high heels or boots.


A Brief History of Barbie Dolls

The original Barbie was created by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, who wanted to give girls a toy that would help them explore their potential, and encourage them to break the stereotypes of being only interested in being mothers and housewives. She named the new doll after her daughter, Barbara, who was only 11 years old at the time. Over the years, Barbies have transformed into so many different versions: there have been famous Barbies, career Barbies, ethnic Barbies, doctor Barbies, athlete Barbies and even Barbies who have given birth to babies. There have been lots of different Barbies with different interests, outfits and even body shapes, but they are all consistent in one thing: she always remains a blonde. What is interesting is that Barbie has been around for more than 50 years, and yet she has been continuously updated to reflect the changing times. If you examine the different versions of Barbie, you will see that the company has changed her hair and outfit to reflect the times. For example, during the late 1960s, Barbie’s hair was long and flowing, and during the early 1970s, her hair was short and choppy. Similarly, during the late 1980s, her outfit was ruffled, and during the early 1990s, her outfit was streamlined.


The Birth of Barbie’s Sisters

Because the original Barbie was so popular and so versatile, Mattel decided to create three other dolls to be her sisters: the brunette Skipper, the African-American Francie and the Hispanic Barbie. These three new Barbies were released in 1967 and were made to look as different as possible from the original Barbie. Francie was given a new hairdo and a new outfit and was marketed as being a Barbie doll for African-American girls. Francie was outfitted in a long dress with a wide collar and ruffles at the sleeves, a sweater, and sandals. She had long, straight hair, and she wore a headband. Outfitting Francie in a dress and sandals instead of a short skirt and high heels was a smart move on Mattel’s part. Many African-American girls were reluctant to play with the original Barbie, for fear of being mistaken for a white girl. With Francie around, they had a more relatable alternative. These three were given the same measurements as Barbie, but with different hair and eye colours. These three new dolls were modelled after Handler’s own daughters and were intended to be Barbie’s younger sisters. Although the original three dolls are still around and available for sale, over the years, there have been many different variations of the three sisters.


Mattel Produces New Versions of the Original Doll

As the years go by and Barbie’s image evolves, so does her outfit and appearance. In 1990, Barbie celebrated her 25th anniversary and was given a whole new look. She was taller, had longer legs and a thinner waistline, and her bust was larger too. These dramatic changes were made to reflect the styles of the ‘80s, but not everyone was happy about the new design. She now comes in different shapes and sizes, and she has many different hairstyles and outfits. She now comes in tall, petite, and curvy categories, and she comes in different skin tones.



Like the other toys in your collection, Barbie can be a great source of fun and creativity. If you were fortunate enough to get a Barbie when you were young, you may be able to pass the tradition down to your own children now. If you don’t have any Barbies from your childhood, you can always buy one new or used to add to your collection. The next time you play with your Barbies, remember that this toy has been around for over 50 years and has had an incredible impact on the world. Barbies have been credited with promoting creativity and sparking imagination in young girls. They have been used as a tool for teaching values, hosting imaginary games, and sparking creativity in millions of girls around the world. Barbies have been marketed toward girls for decades, but they have a significant influence on boys as well. Many boys have Barbies in their collections and a lot of boys have Barbies that they enjoy playing with. Barbies can be a wonderful way to spark imagination in children of all genders.

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