Barbie, a fashion-based doll, has been a huge source of income for Mattel since 1959. The doll has faced backlash for its portrayal of women, unrealistic body proportions, and lack of ethnic characteristics. Despite controversy, Barbie remains a cultural icon and successful toy.
Barbie doll is one of the best-selling dolls in the world and is one of Mattel’s best-known products. Since 1959, Barbie has been a huge source of income for the company. Backlash against the fashion-conscious doll has been consistent in the wake of the women’s rights movement, and Barbie dolls have received continued criticism for their portrayal of women.
Annoyed that most of the dolls were representations of children, Ruth Handler, the wife of Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler, suggested an adult doll. Basing the concept of her on a similar German doll named Bild Lilli, Ruth Handler eventually convinced Mattel’s reluctant directors that there was a market for a fashion-based doll. In 1959, the Barbie doll was presented at the American National Toy Fair.
The original doll came as a long-haired blonde or brunette in a zebra-print bathing suit. Additional dresses were available for purchase and designed to conform to current American fashion trends. Over 350,000 Barbies were sold in the first year of availability. Realizing the market potential, Mattel quickly began releasing pet dolls for Barbie, the first being her boyfriend, Ken. Other popular early friends included Barbie’s younger sister Skipper and her best friend Midge.
The Barbie doll controversy began almost immediately, as the dolls were seen as sexually provocative and an unrealistic portrayal of female beauty. Statistical studies suggest that if she were a Barbie doll on a normal human scale, she would be five feet nine inches (1.78 meters) tall, have bust-waist-hip proportions of 36-18-33 inches (91-46-84 cm), and having so little body fat that you would not be able to menstruate normally. Also, some of the first babies came with scales set at 110 pounds (49.8 kg), more than 30 pounds (13.6 kg) underweight for a woman of her height. In 1997, the Barbie doll was redesigned to have somewhat more realistic proportions, but critics still believe the doll can impose harmful ideas about body image on impressionable girls.
Another controversial issue in the world of Barbie dolls involves introducing ethnic versions of the doll. Critics complain that Black, Hispanic and Asian Barbies don’t show real ethnic characteristics of their races, but simply have a different skin color. Saudi Arabia banned Barbie dolls in 2003, suggesting that the doll was a bad influence and did not fit the ideals of women in the Islamic religion. Alternative lines of dolls have been released by other toy companies attempting to create more realistic dolls.
Collecting Barbie has become a major hob all over the world. The first and rare editions of Barbie dolls bring high prices at auctions. One of the most expensive Barbie doll purchases occurred at a London auction in 2006, when a doll called “Barbie in Midnight Red” sold for US$17,000 (USD.)
Despite the heated controversy surrounding Barbie’s influence on society, the doll remains a cultural icon and incredibly successful toy. Since the 1960s she has provided a catalog of styles and trends in American fashion and ideals. Despite what some critics wish, Barbie doll is an important part of Americana and is likely to continue her famed lifestyle.