Barbie is a fashion doll manufactured by the American toy company Mattel, Inc. and launched in March 1959. American businesswoman Ruth Handler is credited with the creation of the doll using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration.
Barbie is the figurehead of a brand of Mattel dolls and accessories, including other family members and collectible dolls. Barbie has been an important part of the toy fashion doll market for over fifty years, and has been the subject of numerous controversies and lawsuits, often involving parodies of the doll and her lifestyle.
Mattel has sold over a billion Barbie dolls, making it the company’s largest and most profitable line. However, sales have declined sharply since 2014. The doll transformed the toy business in affluent communities worldwide by becoming a vehicle for the sale of related merchandise (accessories, clothes, friends of Barbie, etc.).
She had a significant impact on social values by conveying characteristics of female independence, and with her multitude of accessories, an idealized upscale life-style that can be shared with affluent friends. Starting in 1987, Barbie has expanded into a media franchise, including animated films, television specials, video games, and music.
Barbie has become a cultural icon and has been given honors that are rare in the toy world. In 1974, a section of Times Square in New York City was renamed Barbie Boulevard for a week. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris at the Louvre held a Barbie exhibit in 2016. The exhibit featured 700 Barbie dolls over two floors as well as works by contemporary artists and documents (newspapers, photos, video) that contextualize Barbie.
In 2009, Barbie celebrated her 50th birthday. The celebrations included a runway show in New York for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The event showcased fashions contributed by fifty well-known haute couturiers including Diane von Fürstenberg, Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, and Christian Louboutin.
In March 2018, in time for International Women’s Day, Mattel unveiled the “Barbie Celebrates Role Models” campaign with a line of 17 dolls, informally known as “sheroes”, from diverse backgrounds “to showcase examples of extraordinary women”.
Mattel developed this collection in response to mothers concerned about their daughters having positive female role models. Dolls in this collection include Frida Kahlo, Patti Jenkins, Chloe Kim, Nicola Adams, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Bindi Irwin, Amelia Earhart, Misty Copeland, Helene Darroze, Katherine Johnson, Sara Gama, Martyna Wojciechowska, Gabby Douglas, Guan Xiaotong, Ava Duvernay, Yuan Yuan Tan, and Leyla Piedayesh.
“Barbie syndrome” is a term that has been used to depict the desire to have a physical appearance and lifestyle representative of the Barbie doll. It is most often associated with pre-teenage and adolescent females but is applicable to any age group or gender. A person with Barbie syndrome attempts to emulate the doll’s physical appearance, even though the doll has unattainable body proportions.