This week in History: Barbie

On March 9 1959, the first Barbie doll went on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City. The blond, 11-inch tall doll, manufactured by Mattel, Inc. became the first mass-produced toy doll in the country.

The inspiration for Barbie came from a German doll named Lilli, based on a German comic strip, the rights to which were bought by Mattel in order to create their own version.

Over the years, the Barbie doll has generated an incredible number of sales and a significant amount of controversy. To a large extent, that controversy owes itself to the appearance of the doll: her bodily proportions have been criticised repeatedly for being unrealistic; commentators have argued that the doll does not represent the average female, and therefore serves to do harm to young girls by fostering a negative body image.

However, incredibly recently, on March 3 2016, allegedly driven largely by the critical voice of parents on social media platforms, Mattel has revealed three new body types for its iconic Barbie doll, now on sale in the United Kingdom: curvy, petite, and tall. Mattel has stated that being utilised is a play scale – a ratio of 1:6 that governs the size of toys and accordingly, if the dimensions of Barbie are multiplied by six, the real-world size of women can be found.

In addition to coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, the Barbie doll has diversified along ethnic lines, too; being remodelled and available now in seven different skin tones and eyeshades. Barbie, however, has incited controversy not only in relation to matters of body size and image, but also in relation to offensive gender stereotypes.

In response to a talking Barbie doll that uttered the words “math class is tough”, in the 1970s, feminists at Berkeley took to burning her, angered by the symbolism of the comments that could be associated with schools that consistently short-change girls. In the aftermath of the backlash, while the Barbie was allowed to remain in stores, Mattel offered a swap for anyone who bought an offending doll.

IMAGE: Lara Goncalves


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