As the first teenage doll, Barbie was truly a breath of fresh air. Until she appeared on the scene, little girls had only paper dolls or baby dolls to play with. Named for Ruth Handler's teenage daughter, Barbie was conceived and born as a liberated adult, a sophisticated career girl unencumbered by husband, children or parents -- a radical idea in the 50s!
She was a dramatic departure from the baby dolls of the 1950s that may have placed limits on little girls' dreams. She even came with her own background! Born Barbie Millicent Rogers on March 9, 1959, she grew up in Willows, Wisconsin and graduated from Willows High School in 1963. In 1965 Barbie went off to college. Throughout her spectacular 40-year tenure at Mattel, Barbie has had the same boyfriend, Ken, who debuted in 1961 and was named for Ruth's son.
Initially, Barbie was a fashion model, but she started getting jobs -- babysitter, nurse, student teacher -- by the early 1960s. Barbie was a college graduate long before the Women's Lib Movement. Since then, she has broken the glass ceiling into dozens of other wardrobe-appropriate occupations, including police officer, ballerina, NASCAR race driver, astronaut and Air Force jet pilot. She became a physician in the mid-70s and has since had careers as a surgical nurse, surgeon, dentist and pediatrician. She has sung at the Grand Ole Opry, run for president twice and played basketball in the WNBA.
Barbie was an instant hit. She and her sisters, cousins, friends and pets have sold nearly a billion dollars since 1959. Nearly 350,000 dolls were purchased during the first year of production of Barbie. She retailed for $3.00. Products from the Barbie line earned $1.9 billion in 1999 and made up 40% of Mattel, Inc. annual sales that year. The best selling Barbie ever manufactured was Totally Hair Barbie in 1992. On average, 172,800 Barbie dolls are sold worldwide daily. Over the last 40 years, an estimated 90% of American girls have owned at least one Barbie doll.
Extremely busy, Barbie leads a balanced life, following socially acceptable goals. Children can use their imaginations in an ultimate fantasy world that provides realistic dreams for which they can aspire. Barbie's invented world is indicative of the values and beliefs of middle-class America. Through her roles, careers and appropriate outfits, Barbie demonstrates to little girls what society expects of them and what they can expect of themselves. Once Ken Carson was introduced into Barbie's life (primarily as her escort), her world took on a different perspective. With the his-and-her coordinating outfits, comic strips and books, Barbie and Ken came to represent a wholesome, realistic lifestyle -- one in which little girls can learn about relationships and manners.
Over the past forty years, Barbie's family has undergone a few changes. From 1959 to 1992, Barbie's immediate family consisted of little sister Skipper (1964), little sister Tutti (1966-1969), and little brother Todd (1966-67, twin of Tutti). After 1992, little sister Skipper is older and new little sisters Stacie (1992), Kelly (1995) ad Krissy (1999) are added to the family. Little brother Todd returns in 1991 and again in 1993-1994 as the twin to Stacie. Barbie also has two cousins: Francie (1966-1976) and Jazzie (1989-1993).
Since her introduction in 1959, Barbie has lived an exciting life. She has survived forty years of political, social and cultural changes. As a female trailblazer, Barbie has charted courses for other dolls to follow. She graduated from college, purchased numerous pieces of real estate, owned franchises, ventured into several male-dominated careers, served in the armed forces, traveled the world and surrounded herself with multi-ethnic friends -- all with the same true boyfriend. The fabulous world that Mattel created for Barbie is a pretty good place for little girls to spend their time.
With only bendable legs and a twist-n-turn waist, Barbie has proven to be one of the most flexible toys on the market. As a positive reflection of society and femininity, Barbie has served as a mirror of American fashion history. Many dolls have come after her, but none have her claim to fame: Barbie, the Ultimate Fashion Doll!
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