Barbie Dolls Essay

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The  Barbie  doll  first  appeared on  the  American market  in 1959.  The  blonde  doll  with  the  white skin, waspish waist, and perpetually perky demeanor was  sold  by  Mattel   and  was  geared toward girls  aged  3  to  11  years.  The  doll  was named   after   the   13-year-old  daughter  of   its creators, Ruth  and  Elliot  Handler. The  women’s movement  gave rise to what  came to be called the Barbie Doll syndrome, which identified the phenomenon wherein  girls began  dieting  at an early age to achieve the impossible  goal of looking  like their  Barbie dolls. When  they failed to reach  that goal,  feminists  insisted  that   the  girls  developed low self-esteem. Girls of color were also unable to find  dolls  that  looked  like  them  in  other  ways until  the  rise  of  multiculturalism led  Mattel   to produce dolls of various races, ethnicities, and nationalities. Despite  the  popularity of  Mattel’s chief rival, the Bratz dolls, the average young American girl still owns at least eight Barbie dolls, and  Barbie dolls continue  to be favorite  toys for girls in this  target  group.  Mattel  insists  that  the Barbie  doll  enjoys 100-percent name  recognition among  girls between  the ages of 3 and 10. Mattel introduces approximately 125  new  Barbie  dolls each year. In 2013, one Barbie doll was sold every 3 seconds  somewhere  in the world.  Sales amount to approximately $2 billion  annually,  and  half of all Barbie dolls are sold outside  the United States. Barbie dolls are a major  attraction for doll collectors  of all ages, who  buy a 10th  of all the Barbie dolls sold each year.

Introducing Barbie

The  first  Barbie  doll  to  appear  on  the  scene was introduced at the American Toy Fair in 1959. The first Barbie was short on accessories by subsequent standards. She came dressed  only in a black-and-white striped bathing  suit, but the Handlers understood the importance of dressing up dolls to young girls. The  first  shipment  of half  a million  Barbie dolls was accompanied by a million  costumes.  In 1961,  Mattel  introduced Ken, a boy  doll  named after  the  Handlers’   son.  Ken  was  marketed  as Barbie’s boyfriend. Barbie’s best friend, Midge, was introduced  in  1963.   The  following   year,  Allan was  introduced as Ken’s best  friend  and  Midge’s boyfriend.

In 1963, Mattel  sold 5 million Barbie, Ken, and Midge   dolls   along   with   25   million   costumes. Within  a year, more than  50 separate  outfits  were available for the Barbie doll. In 1967, Mattel introduced Skipper as Barbie’s younger sister. Additional  friends have been added over the years, including  Stacy, P. J., Jamie, Steffie, Kelley, Cara, Tracy, Miko, Whitney, and Teresa. From the beginning,   Barbie  and   her  friends   could   wear the  same  outfits,  as  could  Ken  and  his  friends. Despite this sharing, dressing and accessorizing Barbie   dolls   were   expensive    since   a   basic wardrobe  encompassed 54  costumes  for  Barbie and  Midge,  36  for  Ken  and  Allan,  and  10  for Skipper. In all, the cost of these costumes was approximately $200. Other  accessories such as furniture, jewelry,  dogs,  and  other  paraphernalia raised the costs even higher.

The  Barbie  doll  so  inspired   young  girls  that Mattel   created  a  real-life  Barbie  entourage that included 25 press agents, 45 advertising executives, 5,000  Japanese  doll makers,  and a personal  secretary to answer  Barbie’s mail. With 8,500  chapters of the  Barbie  Fan  Club,  it required  15  people  to keep it in operation. Mattel  even began publishing the Barbie Magazine,  which  claimed  a subscriber base  of  100,000. In  her  first  three  decades,  the Barbie doll sold 500 million units. Over the subsequent  5 years, that  number  jumped  to 800 million units, amounting to more than  $1 billion in sales.


In  the  1960s,   considerable attention  was  being paid to the fact that  young African American  girls were identifying  white dolls as “better” than  dolls that  looked  like themselves,  and  intensive  efforts were focused on building self-esteem in African American  children.  Mattel  responded to  the  consciousness  raising  of the civil rights  movement  by introducing  “Colored  Francie”   in  1967.   Even though  the doll had  black  skin and  dark  hair,  its features  were Caucasian, and  it did not  sell well. The  following  year,  Christie,  who  looked   more African  American  than   Francie  had,  was  introduced with improved  results.

It was not  until  1980,  however,  that  the black Barbie   was   introduced.  In  1988,   Mattel   also offered the opportunity for young girls to customize their  own  Barbie dolls, selling them  at  for  $39.95 plus  the  costs  of  shipping  and handling.  Girls could  choose  their  skin, hair,  and eye color; give them their own names; and create a social profile for them. Recognizing the validity of minority buying power, Mattel introduced Hispanic and Asian Barbies in the 1990s  and  began  selling the  African  American  Shani  doll.  All these  dolls were  intended  to  look  like the  girls playing  with them rather  than  imitations of the original  Barbie. Soon the Barbie Doll World  Collection  had grown to include Jamaican Barbie, Japanese Barbie, Peruvian    Barbie,   Moroccan   Barbie,   Austrian Barbie, and Australian Barbie. Becky, Barbie’s disabled friend, was introduced riding in a wheelchair.

Entertainment  Venues

Barbie  dolls  have  also  proved  to  be a marketing bonanza in the fields of movies and television. The first short  Barbie movie, Barbie and the Rockers: Out  of This World, appeared on television in 1987. Barbie was also featured  in Pixar’s Toy  Story  2 in 1999.   In  2001,   Barbie  starred   in  her  first  fulllength movie, Barbie and the Nutcracker. A series of movies followed, allowing Barbie to appear  in a variety  of  roles.  By  2013,   the  Barbie  doll  had appeared in 25  films, and  Barbie  videos  became hot-selling  items.

In an  innovative  move  that  served  as a model for  other  companies,  Mattel   brought the  Barbie doll to television by creating the Barbie Channel  in 2008.  The  Barbie  Channel  offers  interactive  content,  such as on-demand videos, polls, and  games designed  to  appeal  to  girls  between  the  ages  of 2 and 11. The channel originally appeared only on cable systems but  later  expanded to include satellite companies. It reaches an approximate audience of 19  million.  In addition to the  Barbie Channel, the intensely interactive  Barbie Web site offers videos, games, and a range of activities for young girls.


By 2013, young girls had become the focus of most toy companies  since the sale of products for girls had increased  by 28 percent;  at the same time, the sale of products geared for young boys dropped by 9  percent.   The  increased   interest   in  girls’  toys resulted in a 3-percent increase in the sale of Barbie dolls. That  same year, Finweek identified Barbie as one of the five most  influential  people  who  never existed.

Barbie’s chief competition continued to  be the Bratz doll, which was created  by Carter  Bryant, a Mattel  employee who failed to win approval from his  employers   to  develop   the  doll  for  Mattel. Bryant  subsequently left Mattel  for MGA,  which manufactures the Bratz dolls, and  Mattel  successfully sued for copyright  infringement.

Barbie  dolls  continue   to  reflect  the  changing times  of  modern   society,  and   Barbie  has  been engaged  in a wide range  of careers  since the doll was first  introduced in 1959  as a fashion  model. Inviting little girls to aspire to fulfill their dreams, some of Barbie’s careers have included becoming a ballerina,  a nurse,  a flight attendant, an athlete,  a teacher, an astronaut, a doctor, a dentist, a business executive, an entertainer, an ice skater,  a veterinarian, a race car driver, a zoologist, and even a presidential  candidate.


  1. Clark, The Real Toy  Story: Inside the Ruthless Battle for America’s Youngest Consumers. New York: The Free Press, 2007.
  2. Crosby, Sloane. “Barbie ” Smithsonian, v.41/7 (November 2013).
  3. Dembueur, Alice. “Thirty-Five and Still a Doll.” Boston Globe (March  9, 1994).
  4. Ducille, Ann. “Dyes and Dolls: Multicultural Barbie and the Merchandising of Difference.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, v.6/1 (Spring 1994).
  5. Fennick, Janine. The Collectible Barbie Doll: An Illustrated  Guide  to Her Dreamy  Philadelphia, PA: Courage  Books, 1999.
  6. “Five Influential People That  Never Existed.”  Finweek (August 22, 2013).
  7. Springen, Karen. “Hi There, Dollface. You Look Like Someone We Know.” Newsweek, v.132/20 (November 15, 1988).
  8. Steinberg, Brian. “ITV Barbie Becomes Role Model for Marketers.” Advertising Age, v.81/34  (September 27, 2010).
  9. Stone, Tanya The Good,  The Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History  and Her Impact  on Us. New York: Biking, 2010.
  10. Zillman, Claire. “The Toy Business: It’s Now a Girl’s World.” Fortune (October 30, 2013).
  11. Zinnser, William K. “Barbie  Is a Million-Dollar Doll.” Saturday  Evening  Post, v.237/44 (December  12, 1964).

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