The story of the invention of Barbie is one of perfect timing and female empowerment. Ruth Handler, a business woman, conceived of the notion of an adult doll for young girls after years of observing her daughter playing with baby dolls and, later, paper dolls. She felt there was no doll that allowed young girls to live out their dreams; the baby doll forced the child to take on a maternal roll and paper dolls were too fragile and unrealistic. During the 1950’s, a handful of three-dimensional dolls existed but they were “fashion dolls” targeted at adults. They were made out of hard plastic or porcelain and were not easy to play with. On a trip to Europe in 1956, Handler found the design she had dreamt of in the “Bild-Lilli” Doll. The Lilli was made of soft plastic and had the adult curves Handler had envisioned. Oddly, the Lilli was marketed as an adult male novelty gift but Handler saw something else in the doll. She brought the Lilli back to the United States and began producing her own version of the doll.
The creation of the Barbie Doll was a perfect storm. The United States was recovering from World War II by establishing a sense of normalcy. Women were returning to their homes and the tasks of being housewives while men took bake their place in industry. There was a rise in suburbanization and spending on luxury items such as ovens, cars, and televisions. Although normalcy was being pursued, cultural contention arose with new music, television shows, and fashion trends. There was now a place for young girls to be someone other than a mommy in society. Therefore, there needed to be a doll young girls could use to fantasize about future careers and adventures. The rise of fashion trends allowed Handler to promote her doll as a teenage fashion model instead of a sexy novelty doll. Furthermore, with the popularity television, Barbie could be marketed to children directly, bypassing adults’ disapproval of Barbie’s figure as children began to specifically request the doll.
The perfect storm which enabled the immediate success of Barbie was not simply the post-war society but was also possible because to the ready infrastructure of the Mattel toy factory. Mattel, which was owned by Handler’s husband, had recently become one of the top toy producing toys like Mr. Potato Head and Lego. Mattel was an innovator in the process of marketing to kids. Mattel sponsored “The Mickey Mouse Club”, which was one of the first shows targeting youth, and played commercials for their toys during the program. If any toy company could make Barbie popular, it would be Mattel. Mattel originally had reservations concerning Barbie until 1959 when Jack Ryan, a new design chief, helped Handler produce the item. They outsourced the manufacturing of Barbie to Tokyo and began showing Barbie at toy fairs. Barbie took off in the 1960s as more direct marketing to until she was introduced to children directly in the 1960s. Barbie success today children occurred. Barbie’s continued success can be attributed to Mattel’s ability to conduct market research and adapt Barbie to the trends of the time.
Ruth Handler received her inspirations from her daughter, Barbara, and her friends playing with paper dolls. She realized the girls loved to play grown-up with the dolls, but the dolls were frustrating due to their fragility. Paper dolls first appeared in Paris in the 18th century, during the reign of Louis XV. Children who received paper dolls cherished them because usually paper was not wasted toys. In the 1950s there were many manufactured paper dolls including animals, babies, family figures, and legendary characters. These two-dimensional dolls were the only way girls could explore their fashion sense and playwright skills. Handler wanted to make a three-dimensional doll with greater detail than the paper doll. Other three-dimensional dolls existed at this time such as Ginny, Miss Revlon, and Madam Alexander dolls, however, these dolls were meant as adult collectibles. The German “Bild-Lilli” doll, a male novelty sex toy, was used as the model for the Barbie. Mattel purchased the license for the doll and using different more malleable plastic created the Barbie we know today.
The impact Barbie has had and continues to have on both children and culture is massive and is not to be overlooked. First of all, Barbie was one of the first dolls to be mass-produced and widely distributed on such a large-scale. Secondly, she has been the center of much controversy over the years. Over the past several years there has been discussion over whether Barbie gets kids thinking about sex earlier and if that is acceptable. However, the biggest controversy surrounding the doll is her effect on how young girls view body image and the ideal woman and how this affects them psychologically. There is no doubt that Barbie is one of the most (if not the most) popular dolls in America, and as such she may always be under much scrutiny.
Invention of Barbie
The Barbie is the most popular doll of all time. Her story is one of female empowerment and the controversy. We wanted to find out more about Barbie’s beginnings and how she came to be epitome of perfection so many young girls see her as today. We hope to learn more about this famous doll and her impact on society as we delve further into this project.
Our blog will be divided into pages as follows: antecedents, inventions & selection, impact, and controversy. For the documentary, the group will be using one of the video cameras in the library, in which we will use Adobe Creative Suite to edit and create the movie. We had the idea of putting opinions of Barbie in our documentary and making it cross generational. Our goal is to interview the grandmothers, mothers, and children on what they think are positives and negatives about the product. We also plan to do some research on what Barbie’s tend to sell more in stores today and how they affect the image of women in society.