Skip to main content

Main Area


Looking back at 61 years of Barbie

  • Looking back at 61 years of Barbie

    Barbie turned 60 in 2019. Over the past six decades, the iconic doll has changed hairstyles, facial expressions, and held more than 200 jobs. Ruth Handler created the Barbie doll—which was very similar to the German adult doll Lilli—after she saw her daughter getting creative with paper dolls. Before Barbie, girls mostly acted as caregivers to their baby dolls. Handler, who co-founded Mattel with her husband, wanted to create a doll that could show girls they could be anything they could imagine—“a radical idea” in 1959, said Nathan Baynard, director of global brand marketing for Barbie.

    Though some say Barbie is a career-oriented feminist, the doll's body size has always been a source of controversy. If she was real, Barbie's original waist would have measured an impossibly small 18 inches. While her midsection expanded and her breasts shrank a couple of times over the decades, it wasn't until 2016 that Mattel introduced figures other than the original version. The Fashionista line now features seven body types, 11 skin tones, and 28 hairstyles. In the fall of 2019, dolls with prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs hit the market.

    Throughout Barbie's life as an architect, entrepreneur, presidential candidate, computer engineer, and Mars explorer, she has remained a successful toy for Mattel. It wasn't until 2014 that Elsa from “Frozen” became a more popular Christmas gift request by girls than Barbie.

    To see how Barbie has changed over the years, Stacker combed through the famous doll's history. We've scoured news reports, checked Barbie's historical timeline, and read through “The Story of the Barbie Doll” by Kitturah B. Westenhouser and “Barbie: Four Decades of Fashion, Fantasy, and Fun” by Marco Tosa.

    Click through to see how Barbie's looks, jobs, and body have changed in the last 61 years, including the ways she has made history and inspired several generations and counting.

    You may also like: History of dogs in space

  • 1959: First Barbie introduced

    Handler debuted the first Barbie—a teenage fashion model named after her daughter Barbara —at the 1959 American Toy Fair in New York City. Donning a black-and-white knit bathing suit and a sideways stare, the doll came with a ponytail, white sunglasses, and hoop earrings. More than 300,000 dolls sold in the first year.

  • 1960: Barbie becomes a fashion designer

    Barbie added new outfits in 1960, including ensembles for glamorous nights out and clothes she could wear to work. Fashion designer Barbie wore black-rimmed glasses and carried a portfolio with black-and-white sketches.

  • 1961: Ken is introduced

    In 1961, Barbie became a registered nurse and a stewardess for American Airlines. She also got a boyfriend. A blonde or brunette Ken, a doll named after Handler's son, came with a closet full of clothes. His hair was originally molded and glued on, but designers switched to painted-on plastic after the hair came off too easily.

  • 1962: Barbie gets a new hairstyle

    Barbie ditched the ponytail in favor of a short “bubble cut” in 1962. The hairstyle came in several shades, including brunette and titian (another way of saying red). Her fashion sense mirrored that of Jacqueline Kennedy, including a pillbox hat. Barbie was also ready to entertain in her first Dreamhouse.

  • 1963: Barbie the babysitter

    Barbie added babysitting to her list of jobs in 1963. The Barbie Baby-Sits kit included books on how to get a raise, travel, and even one called “How To Lose Weight.” In addition to dieting tips, Barbie got a freckled best friend named Midge. The popular sidekick got her own boyfriend, Allan, the following year. This photograph depicts Barbie doing real things and originally appeared in the book "Forever Barbie (Morrow)" by M.G. Lord.

    You may also like: Fastest-warming cities in the U.S.

  • 1964: Barbie gets a sister

    Skipper, Barbie's sister, went to ballet class and ice skated. Designers also gave “Miss Barbie” bendable legs, molded hair with wig options, and eyes that could open and shut. Miss Barbie wasn't a huge hit at the time, but collectible versions can now sell for hundreds of dollars.

  • 1965: Barbie goes to space

    Two years after cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, Miss Astronaut Barbie hit the market. She dressed in a metallic space suit with zipper boots. 1965 also marked the controversial release of “Slumber Party Barbie,” whose accessories included a diet book with tips like “don't eat” and a scale set to 110 pounds. The toy maker excluded the scale the following year, but kept the book.

  • 1966: Color Magic Barbie

    Color Magic Barbie gave kids the ability to change the doll's hair color from blonde to scarlet flame and midnight to ruby red. When the doll's hair was treated with a solution of vinegar and water, the wigs would change color. A saline solution changed them back to their original shade without a mess.

  • 1967: The first celebrity Barbie

    Twiggy was the first celebrity to get her own Barbie. Since then, Cher, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and many others have all been immortalized by Mattel. Barbie also started twisting at the waist, and designers gave her a more youthful face with wide-open blue eyes.

  • 1968: Barbie gets a black friend she can share clothes with

    A Black doll named Francie was introduced in 1967, but Christie was Barbie's first Black friend who shared the same body size. While Christie has been a popular doll for decades, many have complained that her features were not authentic to Black women.

    You may also like: How communities are dealing with invasive species across the U.S.

2018 All rights reserved.