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The History of Barbie




The Birth of Barbie

Ruth Handler watched her daughter Barbara at 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, she 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 Germany in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth, Ruth Handler discovered a German doll called the Bild Lilli doll in a shop window. The adult-figured Lilli 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 comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for the newspaper Die Bild-Zeitung. Lilli was a working girl who knew what she wanted and was not above using men to get it. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were available separately. On her return to the United States, Handler reworked the design of the doll (with help from engineer 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 on March 9, 1959. This date is also used as Barbie's official birthday. Mattel acquired the rights to the Bild Lilli doll in 1964 and production of Lilli was stopped. 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. Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year of production. Barbie's appearance has been changed many times, most notably in 1971 when the doll's eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than sideways. Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising, which has been widely copied by other toys. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.


Biography

Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. According to the Random House novels of the 1960s, her parents' names are George and Margaret Roberts of Willows, Wisconsin. Barbie has been said to attend Willows High School in Willows, Wisconsin and Manhattan International High School in New York City, (based on the real-life Stuyvesant High School). Barbie has an on-off romantic relationship with her beau Ken (Ken Carson), who appeared in 1961. Like Barbie, Ken shares his name with one of Ruth Handler's children. Mattel announced in February 2004 that Barbie and Ken had split up, but in February 2006 they were back together again.

Barbie has had over forty pets including cats and dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. She has owned pink convertibles, trailers, jeeps and more. She also holds a pilot's license, and operates commercial airliners in addition to serving as a flight attendant. She has been, among many others, a veterinarian, an astronaut and a diplomat. Barbie's careers are designed to show that women can take on a variety of roles in life.

Mattel has created a range of companions for Barbie, including Hispanic Teresa, African American Christie and Steven (Christie's boyfriend).


Anorexic Barbie

One of the most common criticisms of Barbie is that she promotes an unrealistic idea of body image for a woman, leading to a risk that women who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic. Critics have argued that for a woman to have Barbie's body, she would need to be 7 feet 2 inches tall, weigh 115-130 pounds, have 30 to 36 inch hips, an 18 to 23 inch waist and a 38 to 48 inch bust. Additionally, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate. In 1997 Barbie was redesigned and given a wider waist, with Mattel saying that this would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion designs. A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches tall, giving a height of 5 feet 9 inches at 1/6 scale.


Collecting

Mattel estimates that there are well over 100,000 avid Barbie collectors. Ninety percent are women, at an average age of 40, purchasing more than twenty Barbie dolls each year. Forty-five percent of them spend upwards of $1000 a year. Vintage Barbie dolls from the early years are the most valuable at auction, and while the original Barbie sold for $3.00 in 1959, a mint boxed Barbie from 1959 sold for $3552.50 on eBay in October 2004. On September 26, 2006, a Barbie doll set a world record at auction of 9,000 pounds sterling (US $17,000) at Christie's in London. The doll was a Barbie in Midnight Red from 1965 and was part of a private collection of 4,000 Barbie dolls being sold by two Dutch women, Ietje Raebel and her daughter Marina.

In recent years Mattel has sold a wide range of Barbie dolls aimed specifically at collectors, including porcelain versions and depictions of Barbie as a range of characters from television series such as The Munsters and Star Trek. There are also collector's edition dolls depicting Barbie dolls with a range of different ethnic identities. In 2004 Mattel introduced the Color Tier system for its collector's edition Barbie dolls, ranging through pink, silver, gold and platinum depending on how many of the dolls are produced.


Barbie versus Bratz

My Scene Barbie dolls are the subject of a lawsuitIn June 2001 MGA Entertainment launched the Bratz range of dolls, a move that would give Barbie her first serious competition in the fashion doll market. In 2004 sales figures showed that Bratz dolls were outselling Barbie dolls in the United Kingdom, although Mattel maintained that in terms of the number of dolls, clothes and accessories sold, Barbie remained the leading brand. In 2005 figures showed that sales of Barbie dolls had fallen by 30% in the United States, and by 18% worldwide, with much of the drop being attributed to the popularity of Bratz dolls.

In April 2005, MGA Entertainment filed a lawsuit against Mattel, claiming that the My Scene range of Barbie dolls for 2005 had copied the look of Bratz dolls. The lawsuit is currently pending in the court system of California.

Mattel is also suing MGA Entertainment and Carter Bryant, a former doll designer for Mattel, claiming that company secrets were stolen by MGA.



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