The Evolution of an Icon – How Barbie Rose from Humble Origins to Becoming the World’s Most Famous Doll

  Her name was Barbara Roberts, but people used to call her Barbie, or Barbie Doll. She’s a superstar, but not what you think she is. There will be no superstar who is more approachable than Barbie. After all, Mattel has sold more than 1 billion copies of her in the past 64 years, and her clothes and accessories are countless. She has her own books, magazines, TV shows, video games and a series of animated movies, and her first live-action film, “Barbie,” which is currently in theaters, has surpassed $1 billion in global box office, setting multiple box office records. But did you know that Barbie dolls weren’t born to be loved.
“Barbie can’t make money”

  On the morning of March 9, 1959, in a luxurious suite at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, Ruth Handler lit her last cigarette and walked around restlessly. She booked this room to introduce the newborn Barbie doll to the world. She is 43 years old this year, with a petite figure and a charming smile. Mattel, which she and her husband Elliott Handler founded 15 years ago, is already the third largest toy company in the United States, with a market value of more than 14 million US dollars.
  Elliott was in charge of designing the toys, and Ruth was in charge of marketing and management as executive vice president, and Barbie was the first toy she designed. The tables, chairs and beds in the suite were moved out and replaced with booths with mini scenes centered on Barbie dolls. It was a natural decision for Ruth to launch her creation at the American International Toy Fair, an uncharacteristically warm day when nearly 7,000 toy dealers from around the world gathered in Manhattan to sway a new Toys make or break.
  She has gone to the International Toy Center at 200 Fifth Avenue to find out. This year’s competitive new products include children’s beverage machines that can make soda, a running wooden horse, and even a fuel toy that can reach a speed of 35 kilometers per hour. car. Seeing these novelty toys, Ruth’s confidence could not help but be shaken. After all, everyone in her team told her: “Barbie can’t make money.
  ” If successful, it should be the large rocket designed by her husband. This nearly 5-meter-long rocket can fly 60 meters high, and the “New York Times” is full of praise for it. The media largely ignored Barbie dolls, as did most of the toy dealers who participated in the show.
  It took seven years for the doll to come out, during which time she persuaded the company’s top management, including her husband, countless times, convincing them that there was a market for an adult figure toy doll-they never really believed it, maybe they were just nagged by her I was bored, so I agreed to let her try it. This is her typical character. Once she wants to do something, she always tries her best to achieve it.
  Ruth’s idea for the dolls began with a humble cardboard doll, printed on cardboard that was all the rage in the early 1950s, by cutting out the doll wearing only her underwear and then cutting out several other cardboard sheets You can dress up the doll with the included clothing accessories. This childish and untechnical toy caught Ruth’s attention only because her daughter Barbara was fascinated by it. The little girl and her friends dressed the dolls and imagined them as different identities. Adults, imitate their voices and talk about adult life. This kind of game can be played for hours, and she is keenly aware of children’s yearning for the adult world, which may be a business opportunity that no one has ever discovered.
  There is no shortage of dolls in the United States. At that time, there were more than a dozen kinds of dolls, such as Dorkin, Miss Ginger, Cindy and Miss Revlon, who competed fiercely in the market, but all of them were made into the image of children without exception.
encounter with lily doll

  The idea of ​​making a doll in human form took root in Ruth’s heart, as if it was an arrangement of fate. In 1956, when the Handler family went on vacation in Europe, she saw it in the window of a toy store in the Swiss town of Lucerne. The closest thing to a doll of her dreams.
  Two 30-centimeter-tall dolls look back at her from the window, their brows are bristling, their eye shadows are thick, and their bright red lips are pursed, forming a provocative expression; the towering breasts, slender waist and slender shapely legs clearly Unmistakably declare your mature womanhood.
  The difference was the clothing, one doll was in a ski suit and the other was in European fashion, and Ruth was about to buy one for her daughter. Barbara was very happy but didn’t know which one to choose, she liked both. Ruth asked the shopkeeper if she could buy a single set of clothes, and the answer was: “This kind of Lily doll clothes are not only for sale, but if you really like them, you can buy both.” At the next stop of the trip, Vienna, she found I bought more Lily dolls in different costumes and bought several more to bring back to the US.
  She didn’t know that Lily dolls were not children’s toys in Europe, but sexually suggestive adult toys that men would buy to hang on car rearview mirrors or give girlfriends as flirtatious gifts. The image of Lily doll comes from the heroine of the comic column of “Bild”, a gold digger with scantily clad clothes and bold style, who pursues rich men all day long. Cartoonist Reinhard Beuting teamed up with toy designer Max Weissbrodt to turn her from two-dimensional to three-dimensional.
  Ruth didn’t know the ins and outs of the Lily doll. She only knew that this was her ideal doll. She redesigned the doll’s face and body, plus various clothing, accessories and furniture, and changed the material from hard plastic to soft plastic. Then entrust the Japanese foundry to open the mold for production. In the six months before the opening of the toy fair, the foundry sent her 20,000 Barbie dolls every week. According to her prediction, every doll sold could be tied with three or four sets of clothes.
  Now, standing in her suite at the New Yorker, she wonders for the first time whether her optimism about Barbie’s prospects has been too blind. Distributors came and went one after another. They saw 22 Barbie dolls in different costumes, such as wedding dresses, southern lady dresses, black and white striped swimsuits, etc., and left in a hurry. Ruth pinned her last hope on Lou Kisso, who is a toy buyer for Sears Department Store and has a good relationship with Mattel. As long as he is willing to place an order, Barbie dolls will appear in all large and medium-sized cities in the United States on the shelves of Sears. When Kiso entered the suite, Ruth put on her brightest smile and took him by the hand as he walked from booth to booth, briefing him on Mattel’s market research for Barbie dolls and a planned TV spot. Kiso remained unimpressed. He never placed an order, and even declined a request to bring a few samples back to Sears.
  Ruth almost collapsed. She cried in the suite until dark that day. This was something she had never done before, but after she stopped crying, she became the strong woman again. She immediately sent a telegram to the Japanese foundry to let them Reduce production by 40%.
Accidentally Perfect Marketing

  On the way back to Los Angeles from New York, Ruth was ready to admit defeat. More than ten years of experience in the industry told her: a toy that cannot be seen on the store shelf will never succeed. She still doesn’t know that the drastic changes of the times and the industry have come quietly, and she will be the first beneficiary of this drastic changes.

  Mattel has been involved in television advertising since 1955, and its spending has gradually increased every year. A few weeks before Toy Fair, Ruth invested an additional $125,000 in TV commercials for Barbie dolls. It’s just a game of idle games. The purpose of TV advertising is to drive buyers to department stores and toy stores, where sales are only a drop in the bucket. What’s more, even if the buyer goes to the store, they can’t buy Barbie dolls.
  Ruth spent months in deep frustration. Her daughter, Barbara, just turned 18, decided to leave home to live alone, which made her even more frustrated. It wasn’t until the start of the summer that news from Mattel’s sales department lifted her spirits.
  ”More and more calls came in asking where to buy Barbie dolls,” the sales manager told her.
  ”Oh, how many phones are there?”
  ”Too many to overwhelm the operator.”
  This is when school-age girls on summer vacation get a chance to see a TV ad for a Barbie doll, pestering their parents to buy it, and their parents can’t find it in the store. I arrived, so I called Mattel. Ruth never dreamed that Barbie’s poor start turned into an unexpectedly perfect hunger marketing. Soon, those dealers who ignored her at the toy fair also came to her door, and orders came like a snowflake. In the second half of 1959, Mattel sold 350,000 Barbie dolls at $3 each. To Ruth? When she died of colon cancer in 2002, a Barbie doll was sold every 3 seconds.
  For the first three years on the market, Barbie dolls were in short supply until Mattel expanded its production capacity to fill the gap. Girls all over the world want a Barbie doll, and most American girls have several or even a dozen Barbie dolls, each with its own exclusive clothing.
  Seeing that the work she designed became the best-selling doll in the world, Ruth felt very happy. She created a money-making machine for Mattel, and it is still making continuous profits for the company today. Her obsession with Barbie is based on the assumption that traditional dolls are positioned as babies when girls play games, and Barbie is their future selves.
  After the market proved that this assumption was correct, the development of the Barbie doll product line has unlimited possibilities. In 1960, Barbie first appeared as a professional woman. Since then, she has tried more than 250 occupations such as doctors, astronauts, and military officers. . Her life circle is also expanding. Mattel introduced her boyfriend Ken in 1961, her best friend Mickey in 1963, and her younger sister Skipper in 1964… The list of relatives and friends is now complete. expanded to more than a hundred people.
barbie controversy

  Ruth once said: “My whole idea of ​​Barbie is that the little girl who owns her understands that she can be whatever she wants to be when she grows up, and that women always have choices.” I’m afraid she didn’t expect that, Barbie The doll will become a symbol, a tool, a banner to be championed or attacked by different interest groups.
  The Barbie doll came out just in time for the second-wave feminist movement. The same feminists, some people accused Barbie of being too conservative, and in a society that pursues equality between men and women, marriage should not be regarded as the highest pursuit; others praised her for being independent and open, and she is a model of free women.
  Given that Barbie was originally an image of white beauty, she soon came to be seen as a symbol of a “vase” with good looks and no brains. When feminists marched in the streets of New York in 1970, the slogan they shouted was, “I’m not a Barbie doll.” In some places that resist American culture, Barbie is interpreted as a material girl who lives a luxurious life and is undisciplined. The Russian Ministry of Education has included her in the list of “harmful toys”, and Saudi Arabia and Iran have banned her from sale. There have always been worries about Barbie being too sexy. If her figure is converted to ordinary people, her measurements are astonishing 39, 18, and 33, which is absolutely impossible in real life. In 2006, a paper published in the journal “Developmental Psychology” found that women who had Barbie dolls as children were more obsessed with losing weight than women who did not have Barbie dolls.

Ruth Handler, inventor of the Barbie doll. I’m afraid she didn’t expect that Barbie would become a symbol, a tool, a banner supported or attacked by different interest groups.

  People who like Barbie dolls can give more reasons, such as she is like a magical weathervane in the process of women’s professionalization. In 1965, Mattel launched “Astronaut Barbie” to pay tribute to Valentina Tereshkova, the first female astronaut. 13 years before the astronauts and 18 years before the first American woman in space. When she first became a doctor in 1973, fewer than 20 percent of U.S. medical schools were women; today the percentage is closer to 50 percent. She joined the U.S. Army in 1989, followed by the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Since then, the U.S. military has less and less restrictions on women, until the proportion of women in the military reached an unprecedented 16%. Unbeknownst to many, Barbie has run as a candidate in almost every U.S. presidential election since 1992, absent in 1996, and she even had a female running mate in 2016—a Mattel product, of course. .
  For more than half a century, Mattel has been conforming to the new requirements of the times for Barbie dolls. As early as 1968, they launched Christie, a black doll the same size as Barbie dolls. In 1981, they launched the “Oriental Barbie doll” from Hong Kong. In 2019, they started selling prosthetics and wheelchairs for the full range of Barbie dolls, and this year they launched a “Barbie with Down Syndrome.” During the ravages of the new crown epidemic, the “Anti-epidemic Heroes” series was also released, based on real women on the front lines of medical care, medical research, and vaccine research and development, and several Barbie dolls full of positive spirits were launched.
  Today’s Barbie doll is like a mirror, reflecting different ideas and voices. Few toys carry people’s disputes about gender, image and value like her. You can like her or hate her, you just can’t ignore her.