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Barbie


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(1959– )

Created by Ruth Handler, wife of one of the company's co‐founders, and launched by the American toy‐company Mattel at the 1959 New York Toy Fair, Barbie doll was originally marketed as a glamorous, bodily developed teenage fashion model with a range of fashions and accessories. With ponytail hairstyle, black and white striped bathing suit, and sunglasses she proved an instant and phenomenal sales success with young girls, despite the initial reservations of retail industry buyers. Over 350,000 Barbies were purchased within a year. Very much responding to contemporary fashion, youth culture, and notions of ‘Lifestyle’, Barbie underwent a number of constructional changes. These included a swivel waist for dancing (1969), a whole range of movable bodily joints for the ‘New Living Barbie’ (1970), hands that could hold accessories such as a telephone or portable TV (1972), and a ‘Free Moving Barbie’ mechanism which allowed her to wield a tennis racket or golf club. Barbie proved highly attractive to young girls over a long period. Her male counterpart, fashion‐conscious boyfriend Ken, joined Barbie in 1961. Barbie's gender and sociocultural stereotype, which even extended to the inclusion of a wedding dress, the most popular of her outfits, was to a minor degree negated by some of the professional roles that she adopted over the years including doctor, firefighter, astronaut, and presidential candidate. In similar vein, amongst other friends introduced to the range was an African‐American, Chrissie (1968), and a disabled friend in a wheelchair, Becky (1997). Barbie has been marketed worldwide since 1963 and has proved highly successful. As a result, she has been manufactured under licence, commencing in England, France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. About one billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide since 1959, with annual sales of over £1 billion. However, in 2004, much as if they were real Hollywood personalities, it was decided that Barbie and Ken were to end their long‐standing relationship. To complement Barbie's latest incarnation as a Californian beach girl a new character has been launched, an Australian surfer named Blane. See also Action Man; Sindy; Mattel.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.


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