Barbie was first brought into our lives at the New York Toy Fair March 9, 1959. She was different from other dolls on the market in that she represented the idea that women had choices; she could be anything she wanted to be. And over the past 58 years, she has done just that, all while becoming an icon to young children all over the world.
But her road to success has been paved with problematic advice and images and straight up white nonsense. The good news? She’s opened her eyes to these problems in very recent years and has become a bit more intersectional.
Let’s take a look back at some of the transformations Barbie has made throughout the last six decades:
1959: Barbie is introduced to the world as a teenage fashion model from a small town in Wisconsin, with the goal that young girls would look to her as a role model for being anything and everything they want to be.
1963: Mattel does more damage than good with the release of Slumber Party Barbie, whose wardrobe and accessories were solely pink, including a bathroom scale set to 110lbs and a diet book that contained one rule: DON’T EAT! The company scrambled to introduce an improved version of the doll, which didn’t include a scale. Barbie Sleepytime Gal did, however, still promote her insane diet plan.
1975: Mattel caused another rather strong response from consumers when they introduced a new version of Barbie’s little sister, Skipper. She was advertised as “2 dolls in 1,” because when her arm is rotated, her torso lengthens and her breasts “grow.” This was meant to represent how young girls blossom into young women — but, eh, the public wasn’t really loving it. The doll’s breasts were set to just one size when another version of the doll was released in 1979.
1992: Barbie made her “talking” debut, and it turned out, she didn’t have much to say. Her phrases included “I love shopping,” “Party dresses are fun,” and the oh-so-problematic declaration, “Math is tough!” Many groups lashed out at Mattel, including the American Association of University Women (AAUW), who believed Mattel was perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes. Apparently, Barbie found herself a tutor as the phrase was dropped from her vocabulary, entirely, soon after this release.
1994: Barbie and Nabisco teamed up to create an African American “Oreo Fun Barbie.” While it was cool they finally included WOC, consumers had a complete meltdown over the term “Oreo,” which is commonly used to describe someone black on the outside and white on the inside. The doll was immediately recalled.
2008: Barbie got more comfortable expressing her edgier side, donning fishnet stockings and a black motorcycle jacket. Unfortunately, many Christian groups viewed her new look as overly sexual, and controversy, once again, surrounded Mattel.
2013: Mattel tries their best at being somewhat PC and inclusive when introducing the first handicapped doll. While their hearts may have been in the right place, the doll was poorly planned. Her long hair got stuck in her wheels, and the Barbie Dream House isn’t exactly handicap accessible, which caused some issues. The doll was eventually pulled from the shelves.
But even though Barbie was a problematic little white girl for the majority of her life, Mattel has made some major strides in recent years to be more inclusive, progressive, and body positive.
2014: Mattel gives us Entrepreneur Barbie, who not only has her very own LinkedIn Profile, she’s also backed y 10 real-life female entrepreneurs called her chief inspiration officers (CIO)—including Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, and Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss.
2015: Mattel finally becomes more inclusive and releases a line of Barbies which have seven new skin tones and 14 hairstyles, as well as bendable ankles so that the dolls aren’t forced to live their lives in heels anymore. Along with this introduction, Mattel also begins moving away from gender-based marketing with an advertisement that both featured and targeted boys.
2016: Adding to their dope new line of inclusive dolls, Mattel release a new line of Barbie bodies with the hashtag #TheDollEvolves. Consumers could now pick from three new body shapes: petite, tall, and curvy, in addition to her slender frame. Barbie also has seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, and 33 hairstyles (including an afro and curly red) consumers could choose from.