Barbie: Doll Of Empowerment, Or Oppression? Biography And Facts

By | June 24, 2020

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Barbie dolls dressed in a variety of costumes are part of the huge inventory at KittyÕs Collectables in Laguna Beach. Owner Kitty Stuart is one of the largest vintage Barbie doll dealerships in the U.S. (Photo by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Ge

The Barbie doll, introduced in 1959, has seen her share of changes -- just as flesh-and-blood women were effecting changes in society. Barbie gets props for being an independent young woman who didn't teach girls to cook and change diapers. On the other hand -- that voluptuous torso and those endless legs were not a figure any young girl could achieve, and Barbie had thrown off the shackles of domesticity only to embrace mindless consumerism. Just what has been a healthy message -- and what messages have been harmful -- for young girls has been a moving target over the past 60 years, and Barbie's status as the most popular girls' toy has put her in the crosshairs as well.

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The inspiration for Barbie. Source: (pinterest)

When Ruth Handler, who founded Mattel with her husband Elliott, noticed her young daughter spending significant time playing with paper dolls, she was inspired to create a 3-D version. While on a trip to Germany, she found the eventual model for the doll: a doll named Lilli based on a cartoon character published in the newspaper Bild. The character was a working woman who did what she needed to do to get what she wanted. The doll was sold as a racy gag gift in tobacco shops. Handler bought three of the dolls: one for her daughter and the other two for Mattel. She worked with Jack Ryan, an engineer, to redesign the doll and create the first Barbie. She named the doll Barbie after her daughter.