I was a little girl of three in 1959, when the Barbie doll came out. Every little girl old enough to understand what these dolls were, wanted one…me included. There was one little problem. I just couldn’t seem to get the name right. I told my parents that I wanted a Bride doll. In fact I think I told them that every day for the three months before the arrival of Christmas. Advertisements for the Barbie doll did nothing to deter my quest for a Bride doll. I just didn’t understand that there was going to be a problem.
The Barbie doll made its first appearance on this day, March 9, 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City…just like any other supermodel, I suppose. The doll was just stunning, and over the years has been at the center of the self esteem controversy, because some people felt like she gave girls a misguided view of what their bodies should look like. I suppose the doll could have done that, but it certainly did not affect her popularity. In retrospect, I don’t recall that I ever once looked at the doll and decided that I was fat. It was a doll after all, but somewhere along the way, someone must have, so the controversy continues to this day.
At eleven inches tall, Barbie had beautiful blond hair. Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. It makes sense. A baby doll can’t play the part of the mom, so if girls were to continue to play with dolls, they had to have a mom…reasoned Ruth Handler, who came up with the idea. Ruth co-founded Mattel, Inc with her husband in 1945. She saw that her young daughter, Barbara ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, and realized there was a niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future. The line has grown to include Ken, Midge, and Skipper.
Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales. On the positive side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even United States presidential candidate. Despite the criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar. The line topped 1 billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon. Eventually, I did get my Barbie doll, and for some reason, I never told my parents about the mix-up. I guess I couldn’t let them think that my Christmas gift had not been what I wanted. Besides that, the Bride doll was very beautiful, although I never played with it as much as I would have played with the Barbie doll.