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Barbie facts for kids

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Quick facts for kids
Barbie Logo.svg
Type Fashion doll
Inventor(s) Ruth Handler
Company Mattel
Country United States
Availability March 9, 1959–present
Materials Plastic

Barbie is best known as a toy doll. Starting as just a doll, Barbie became a brand. It is most common in the United States. It is named after a girl named Barbara. Barbara was the toy maker's daughter. Though the brand is most famous for the doll, other merchandise has been created with the Barbie name such as games, movies, videos, clothing, accessories, and books. The clothes and fashion accessories allow girls a taste of high fashion.

Throughout the decades, Barbie has reflected and encouraged feminine growth in the workplace in the United States and been a miniature model of women worldwide. The doll has been criticized for causing self-image complexes, yet other companies continue to produce similar dolls.

Barbie and her male counterpart, Ken, have been described as the two most popular dolls in the world. In 2020, Mattel sold $1.35 billion worth of Barbie dolls and accessories, and this was their best sales growth in two decades. The release of the 2023 movie Barbie is expected to create "significant growth" for the brand until at least 2030. As well as reinvigorated sales, the release of the movie has triggered a fashion trend known as "Barbiecore".


Ruth Handler in 1961
Barbie creator Ruth Handler with an assortment of Barbie and Mattel products (1961)

Ruth Handler watched her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, and noticed that she often enjoyed giving them adult roles. At the time, most children's toy dolls were representations of infants. Realizing that there could be a gap in the market, Handler suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to her husband Elliot, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company. He was unenthusiastic about the idea, as were Mattel's directors.

During a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler came across a German toy doll called Bild Lilli. The adult-figured doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she purchased three of them. She gave one to her daughter and took the others back to Mattel. The Lilli doll was based on a popular character appearing in a satirical comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Bild. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955. It became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately.

Upon her return to the United States, Handler redesigned the doll (with help from local inventor-designer Jack Ryan) and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler's daughter Barbara. The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York City on March 9, 1959. This date is also used as Barbie's official birthday.

The first Barbie doll was introduced in both blonde and brunette on March 9, 1959.

The first Barbie doll wore a black-and-white zebra striped swimsuit and signature topknot ponytail, and was available as either a blonde or brunette. The doll was marketed as a "Teen-age Fashion Model", with her clothes created by Mattel fashion designer Charlotte Johnson. The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan, with their clothes hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production.

Charlotte Johnson with 1965 Barbie doll
Clothing designer Charlotte Johnson with a 1965 doll

Louis Marx and Company sued Mattel in March 1961. After licensing Lilli, they claimed that Mattel had "infringed on Greiner & Hausser's patent for Bild-Lilli's hip joint", and also claimed that Barbie was "a direct take-off and copy" of Bild-Lilli. The company additionally claimed that Mattel "falsely and misleadingly represented itself as having originated the design". Mattel counter-claimed and the case was settled out of court in 1963. In 1964, Mattel bought Greiner & Hausser's copyright and patent rights for the Bild-Lilli doll for $21,600.

Barbie's appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll's eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance of the original model. This would be the last adjustment Ruth would make to her own creation as, three years later, she and her husband Elliot were removed from their posts at Mattel after an investigation found them guilty of issuing false and misleading financial reports.

Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been copied widely by other toys. In 2006, it was estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls had been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.

The standard range of Barbie dolls and related accessories are manufactured to approximately 1/6 scale, which is also known as playscale. The standard dolls are approximately 11+12 inches (29 cm) tall.

Fictional biography

First appearance March 9, 1959; 65 years ago (1959-03-09)
Created by Ruth Handler
Nickname(s) Barbie
Occupation See: Barbie's careers
Family See: List of Barbie's friends and family

Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. In a series of novels published by Random House in the 1960s, her parents' names are given as George and Margaret Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin. In the Random House novels, Barbie attended Willows High School; while in the Generation Girl books, published by Golden Books in 1999, she attended the fictional Manhattan International High School in New York City (based on the real-life Stuyvesant High School).

She has an on-off romantic relationship with her then-boyfriend Ken (full name "Kenneth Sean Carson"), who first appeared in 1961. A news release from Mattel in February 2004 announced that Barbie and Ken had decided to split up, but in February 2006, they were hoping to rekindle their relationship after Ken had a makeover. In 2011, Mattel launched a campaign for Ken to win Barbie's affections back. The pair officially reunited in Valentine's Day 2011. At the release of Barbie: Dreamhouse Adventures in 2018, the pair are seen as just friends or next-door neighbors.

Mattel has created a range of companions and relatives for Barbie. She has three younger sisters: Skipper, Stacie, and Chelsea (named Kelly until 2011). Her sisters have co-starred in many entries of the Barbie film series, starting with Barbie & Her Sisters in A Pony Tale from 2013. 'Retired' members of Barbie's family included Todd (twin brother to Stacie), Krissy (a baby sister), and Francie (cousin). Barbie's friends include Hispanic Teresa, Midge, African American Christie, and Steven (Christie's boyfriend). Barbie was also friendly with Blaine, an Australian surfer, during her split with Ken in 2004.

Barbie has had over 40 pets including cats and dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. She has owned a wide range of vehicles, including pink Beetle and Corvette convertibles, trailers, and Jeeps. She also holds a pilot's license, and operates commercial airliners in addition to serving as a flight attendant. Barbie's careers are designed to show that women can take on a variety of roles in life, and the doll has been sold with a wide range of titles including Miss Astronaut Barbie (1965), Doctor Barbie (1988), and Nascar Barbie (1998).

Legacy and influence

Barbie has become a cultural icon and has been given honors that are rare in the toy world. In 1974, a section of Times Square in New York City was renamed Barbie Boulevard for a week. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris at the Louvre held a Barbie exhibit in 2016. The exhibit featured 700 Barbie dolls over two floors as well as works by contemporary artists and documents (newspapers, photos, video) that contextualize Barbie.

In 1986, the artist Andy Warhol created a painting of Barbie. The painting sold at auction at Christie's, London for $1.1 million. In 2015, The Andy Warhol Foundation then teamed up with Mattel to create an Andy Warhol Barbie.

Interior of the Barbie Cafe
Interior of the Barbie café in Taiwan in 2013

In 2013, in Taiwan, the first Barbie-themed restaurant called "Barbie Café" opened under the Sinlaku group.

The Economist has emphasized the importance of Barbie to children's imagination:

From her early days as a teenage fashion model, Barbie has appeared as an astronaut, surgeon, Olympic athlete, downhill skier, aerobics instructor, TV news reporter, vet, rock star, doctor, army officer, air force pilot, summit diplomat, rap musician, presidential candidate (party undefined), baseball player, scuba diver, lifeguard, fire-fighter, engineer, dentist, and many more. [...] When Barbie first burst into the toy shops, just as the 1960s were breaking, the doll market consisted mostly of babies, designed for girls to cradle, rock and feed. By creating a doll with adult features, Mattel enabled girls to become anything they want.

Mattel Theme Park

In 2023, Mattel broke ground on a theme park near Phoenix, Arizona. The park is to open in 2024 and highlights Mattel's toys, including a Barbie Beach House, A Thomas & Friends themed ride, and a Hot Wheels go-kart race track. The theme park will take place at the VAI Resort complex, located 15 miles (24 km) west of Phoenix, Arizona.

"Barbie syndrome"

"Barbie syndrome" is a term that has been used to depict the desire to have a physical appearance and lifestyle representative of the Barbie doll. It is most often associated with pre-teenage and adolescent girls but is applicable to any age group or gender. A person with Barbie syndrome attempts to emulate the doll's physical appearance, even though the doll has unattainable body proportions. This syndrome is seen as a form of body dysmorphic disorder and results in various eating disorders as well as an obsession with cosmetic surgery.

In 2016, Mattel introduced a range of new body types: 'tall', 'petite', and 'curvy', releasing them exclusively as part of the Barbie Fashionistas line. 'Curvy Barbie' received a great deal of media attention and even made the cover of Time magazine.

Notable designers

  • Kitty Black Perkins, creator of Black Barbie
  • Carol Spencer, Barbie fashion designer from 1963-1999

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Barbie para niños

  • Barbie (media franchise)
  • Barbenheimer
  • Creatable World
  • Kitty Black Perkins
  • Lammily - a crowd funded alternative developed by Nickolay Lamm
  • List of Barbie animated films
  • List of Barbie video games
  • My Scene
  • Sindy
  • Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
  • The Most Popular Girls in School
  • Totally Hair Barbie
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