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Barbie: the Early History by Erica Wolf Essay

Do you know anyone who has their own dream house, super fun pool house, pink convertible, or their own magical musical movies? No, I’m not talking about Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, This girl is more classic, and more of a role model to every little girl around the world. She’s a fun, outgoing character with an outfit for every occasion. She’s Barbie. Today we will learn about this amazing doll and the affect she has had on toy industry. First we will examine the pink and perfect history of Barbie, then we will try on the many different characters in Barbie’s family, and finally we will hit the shelves to examine the marketing of Barbie merchandise.

First we will examine the pink and perfect history of Barbie. Barbie was first introduced at the American International Toy Fair in New York in February of 1959 according to “Barbie: The Early History” by Erica Wolf last updated in 2000. Ruth and Elliot Handler, the creators of Barbie, modeled her after the German doll known as “Lilli.” Ruth discovered Lilli while shopping in Switzerland and brought her home for her daughter to play with. This inspired Ruth to create an adult doll made specifically for little girls. Handler eventually had Jack Ryan, an executive of Mattel, purchase the rights for Lilli and make a deal with the company to create a doll similar to Lilli. The new doll would have a more “soft” look and didn’t look as made up with makeup as Lilli. Finally, in 1958, the new doll, Barbie Millicent Roberts (named after Handler’s daughter, Barbara) was born.

At 11 ½ inches tall, debuted as a teenage model in a black and white striped swimming suit that came with sunglasses, high-heeled shoes, and gold colored hoop earrings. The body was shapely with a movable head, arms, and legs. Barbie would be the first doll in America with an adult-like body. Though Barbie was thought to be a huge success, some people in America had a terrible reaction toward this new phenomenon. Many female adults frowned upon her mature body figure. Mothers said they would not allow their daughters to play with Barbie because of her very grown up figure. The doll quickly caught the attention of little girls across the country. Soon, the small, sophisticated doll became a worldwide sensation, and remains the top fashion doll today.

Next, I am going to talk about the many different characters of Barbie. Including some of her friends, the different types of Barbies throughout the years, and the many outfits of Barbie. During the first decade of Barbie in the 60’s, there were themes that went with Barbie. Such as “Barbie Goes to College “. In 1961, Ken was introduced. He wore swim trunks and an unbuttoned shirt, and came with blond, brown or black hair. Alternative clothes included a sailor’s outfit, a college student look and casual ensembles for picnics or movies. According to “Barbies of the 60s” by Amanda Hermes last updated in 2013, in 1963 Mattel released Barbie’s best friend, Midge, who had brunette hair and wore a sleek red swimsuit and red heels. Barbie’s little sister, Skipper, appeared in 1964, along with her own boyfriend, Allan.

A year later, Barbie’s family grew to include twins Tutti and Todd followed by her more modern cousin, Francie, who also came in Japanese and African American versions. Christie, the first African American friend of Barbie’s, came along in 1968. In Barbie Doll History, there have been numerous types of Barbies made since she was first introduced. With a rare exception here and there, Barbie’s body hasn’t changed much. Some may have more moveable parts, but the size and shape remains the same. Her face however, is a different story. Vintage Barbies were made from 1959 to 1966. Vintage Barbies made from 1967 to 1973 are considered to be Mod Barbies. One of the most notable dolls in this era was Malibu Barbie. She represented a shift in Barbie’s evolution. She was made from 1971 to 1977.

The next big shift in Barbie Doll History happened in 1977, when in the era of the Halter Dress and Farrah Fawcett hair; Barbie underwent a dramatic transition in the form of Superstar Barbie. Barbie’s were made with the big toothy smile and tons of long blonde hair for the rest of the 1970s, all of the 1980s and a large part of the 90s. Well-known designers such as Bob Mackie created many of the early collectible Barbie Dolls. One of Barbie’s first transformations after so many years with the Superstar face was with the “Mackie Face.”

In 2000, Mattel introduced the Fashion Model Collection, also known a Silkstones. They use the vintage Barbie face and have been very successful with Barbie collectors. Barbie has undergone many changes and a lot of diversity over the last ten years. Now a variety of different skin tones, hair colors and face sculpts are used. Mattel released a series of twelve Black Label Basic Barbie Dolls, the next step in Barbie Doll History, each featuring different types of Barbie face sculpt.

Finally, we will hit the shelves to examine the marketing of Barbie merchandise. Every second 2.5 Barbie dolls are sold. This contributes to sales of more than $1.5 billion U.S. annually, making Mattel’s Barbie the most successful doll in history. Today, women have active lifestyles, balancing career and home activities creating a very different taste in doll buyers. Mattel first failed to realize the importance of this shift in 2001 when MGA Entertainment released their Bratz dolls, a doll with personality and attitude for the new generation of girls.

Mattel is still suffering today due to the invention of Bratz dolls. Not only did Mattel not recognize these threats, they also thought it unwise to make major changes to Barbie; afraid consumers might not like the changes. It was too late when they finally realized that not changing the look of Barbie would be a bad idea. In 2006, sales had dropped 30% despite rushed changes being made to Barbie’s figure, looks, boyfriends and clothing. They also introduced their own new line of modern dolls called “My Scene” girls. It was obvious to consumers that this was an imitation of the Bratz dolls, so it never matched popularity.


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