Ruth Handler--wife of Mattel toy company co-founder Elliot Handler--first came up with the idea of an adult-bodied doll in the early 1950s. Noticing that her daughter Barbara only had dolls modeled after babies but would give them adult roles when playing with them, Handler found a gap in the market. On a trip to Germany, she discovered a toy called Bild Lilli, which matched up perfectly with the idea she had in mind. She brought the doll back to Mattel and began to work on redesigning it for an American audience. In 1959, the first Barbie (named after Handler's daughter Barbara) was introduced at the American International Toy Fair.
Barbie was an immediate success, and more than 350,000 dolls were sold within the first year. Though the new doll was originally criticized by some parents for her distinctly curvy figure, Barbie's appearance has only undergone relatively minor changes over the last 50-plus years--most notably when her waist was slightly widened in 1997. In addition to different iterations of the doll, Barbie has also sparked a franchise that includes novels, animated films, and video games. The character was given an official biography, with the full name Barbara Millicent Brooks. Barbie has had a long-standing on-again, off-again relationship with her male counterpart, Ken, and she also has several other characters as her friends and relatives, including Teresa, Christie, Skipper, Todd, and Stacie. Barbie is widely recognized as being one of the most famous toys produced in history, and Mattel estimates that more than 1 billion dolls have been sold since the character's original introduction.
Dolls remain the number one product in the Barbie toy line. The character usually sports her signature blonde locks; though she is also made as a brunette. In addition to Barbie herself, you can also find dolls based off all of the other characters within the franchise. Different Barbies represent different personas of the same character, so Barbie might have different hairstyles or types of clothes depending on the theme of a particular doll. You also have the ability to buy all sorts of outfits and accessories for these dolls, which can transform their personalities even further. Playsets that go along with Barbie and her friends include options like the Barbie Dream House as well as vacation homes, workplaces, stables, cars, and more.
Barbie has been the subject of a number of fairy tales that have been released on DVD, and several of these stories have spawned their own merchandise--including limited-edition dolls, outfits, and accessories. Other popular Barbies feature the ability to change the doll's hair and makeup, and many come with options for girls to mimic their favorite character's appearance in real life as well. As a response to accusations that Barbie wasn't a good role model for modern girls, the Barbie Careers line of dolls depicts the character as a workingwoman with her dream job.
Many parents have already come to their own conclusions about Barbie, and both sides tend to be very vocal about their opinions. The character's exact measurements are clearly unrealistic for a real woman to achieve, and many people worry that girls who play with Barbies will turn to anorexia or other eating disorders to try to emulate the character. On the other hand, however, many of the more recent additions to the Barbie franchise--including the animated films about the character--establish her as a more realistic young woman who has to be independent and work to reach her dreams (making her a much better role model). In the end, it will be up to you as a parent to weigh the positive attributes of Barbie against the potential negatives. It's clear that Barbie isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and for the history and quality of the dolls and accessories, we give the brand 4 stars out of 5.