From big hair, pouting lips and more than 150 careers under her belt, Barbie’s evolution has marked the social trends from 1959 until today, and now she is a star of the big screen!
Over an incredible 64 years, Barbie has undergone some dramatic changes, reflecting shifting beauty standards and social norms. Women have evolved, and Barbie has changed with them.
In 1959 the Barbie doll was introduced into the American market. Created by Ruth Handler and originally released by Mattel, Barbie was modelled on a German doll marketed as a gag gift for adults.
Previously girls had been given baby dolls to play mummy with, so Barbie, the first adult toy for little girls, shocked many adults.
Handler revealed that her inspiration derived from her young daughter’s fascination with teenage life and love of fashion, saying: ‘My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.’
Interestingly, her aesthetic comprised two contrasting elements: she was a role model for traditional idealised femininity (with her long legs, tiny waist, slim hips and large, youthful breasts), but she represented everything a girl could imagine being as a grown-up. She was arguably a precursor to the new independence that was to blossom for women in the 1960s.
Barbie also evolved with the times. The original Barbie started out as pale, had heavy eyelids and a curly cropped fringe. Fast forward to today and she has undergone a complete makeover to become the glossy-haired icon we now know.
However it’s the transformation in the decades in between that has become an interesting trail of stylistic change, where her appearance has been continuously tweaked over the years to reflect the changing beauty ideals.
The sixties arrived and Barbie’s lips became rounder, her makeup softened and her nose was given a turned-up tip. As demand became higher and higher, and her style changing to reflect the fashions, she became known as the ‘Mod Barbie’.
Long-time Barbie designer, Carol Spencer, explained the revolution of Barbie in the seventies to a tanned doll with lighter hair and bluer eyes was because everyone was “going to the beach and having a suntan”.
For the first time, Barbie also sported a tooth revealing grin. Her gaze was altered from the original demure, lowered eyelids to a more feminist straight-ahead look. This new, carefree Barbie saw the launch of Malibu Barbie in 1971.
Later in the decade Barbie took some inspiration from the immensely popular actress, Farrah Fawcett, from the TV series Charlie’s Angeles.
The eighties brought on some colourful eye shadow and blue mascara to accompany Barbie’s noticeably bluer eyes, with large earrings, a higher forehead, a rounder nose and thinner lips than her sixties pout.
By 1985 Barbie loved the sun, so much so that her tan was the darkest it had ever been.
While 1990 saw Barbie sporting a cropped shaggy-do, her big eyes and heavy bright makeup were still a focus and by the middle of the decade she featured a more square jaw.
A selling point towards the end of the decade was her long blonde hair and accessories for kids to style it with.
In 2000 a much more subtle application of makeup was introduced, as Barbie’s face slimmed down and became narrower, sparking suggestions of an attempt to reflect the late 90s models such as Kate Moss. Her eye shape changed from round to almond, while her pout was much fuller than the eighties.
We waved goodbye to peroxide blonde Barbie (for now) as she went back to basics, wearing a more flattering shade of warm tones.
Today the doll has fallen out of the tan-obsessed phase and is much paler, reverting to a natural look with a more realistic facial structure.
With a professional resume thicker than a phonebook, and a community of friends that rivals any social network, Barbie continues to reinvent herself and inspire the next generation of girls.
In 2013 Barbie sales dropped dramatically, suggesting a shifted outlook among young girls’ perception of image and beauty. Mattel CEO Bryan Stockton told analysts in the quarterly earnings conference call: ‘The reality is we just didn’t sell enough Barbie dolls. What’s clear to us is the landscape is changing.’
So in 2016 Mattel announced a new-look Barbie, introducing three new body types into its Fashionistas range: tall, petite and curvy. Acknowledging that women come in all different shapes and sizes, ending the tradition of Barbie looking unrealistically perfect.
This update also included a total of 33 new dolls, comprised of these new diverse-body shapes, seven new skin tones, 14 face sculpts, 22 eye colours, 30 hair colours and 24 hairstyles.
‘Barbie reflects the world girls see around them,’ Mattel president and CEO Richard Dickson said in a statement then.
‘Her ability to evolve and grow with the times, while staying true to her spirit, is central to why Barbie is the number-one fashion doll in the world.’
Although Barbie’s face is a mark of evolution, up until this update, it was a different story when it came to her slim, disproportionate figure, which stayed the same since she landed on the shelves in 1959. The body shape and size of Barbie had attracted much controversy and scrutiny throughout the years, suggesting that Barbie’s body measurements set unrealistic goals for girls.
In reality, pre-2016 Barbie’s 16-inch waist would be four inches narrower than her head. Her body measurements suggest that in real life Barbie would be incapable of holding up her own body, requiring her to walk on all fours.
Amongst the other controversial releases was ‘Slumber Party Barbie’. Produced in the mid-1960s, it featured a set of scales set at 110lbs (50kg) and a diet book entitled ‘How to Lose Weight’, containing just one instruction, ‘Don’t eat!’ A later update of ‘Slumber Party Barbie’ was released without the scales, but still featured the diet book.
The Barbie Movie
After months of teasing, the much-hyped Barbie movie launches 22 July.
It seems the Barbie world is upon us, from a Malibu Barbie dreamhouse listed on AirBnB, an AI tool that transforms selfies into Barbie movie posters and multiple Barbie-themed brand collaborations ranging from nail polish to roller skates, it looks like she is going to be everywhere for quite a while.
Barbie has even gone viral as a fashion trend known as Barbiecore, exploding across social media with people embracing vibrant pink hues and hyper feminine aesthetics.
So have Mattel got it right? It seems this very deliberate marketing ploy is destined to revitalise and redefine a brand with a contested position and history, and keep Barbie relevant to a new generation of toy lovers (and perhaps an older generation too).
In case you haven’t seen the final trailer:
Bild Lilli, Barbie’s predecessor?
In 1952 Bild Lilli was a German comic-strip character, created for the newspaper Bild-Zeitung. She has been described as a sex worker but more accurately she was a sassy, raunchy but “kept” woman who dated rich men. A doll was made based on the Bild Lilli comic strip as a gag gift for adults.