Barbie will be 60 soon, and she's still going strong
CGTN

She is turning 60 this year and still doesn't have a single wrinkle.

Blonde or brunette, slender or curvy, black or white, princess or president, Barbie is a forever favorite for young girls, even if she has caused controversy over the years.

The iconic doll has evolved to keep up with the times, and despite fierce competition in the toy industry, 58 million Barbies are sold each year in more than 150 countries.

"In an industry where success today is three to five years, 60 years is a huge deal!" said Nathan Baynard, director of global brand marketing for Barbie.

Barbie doll prototypes are displayed at a workshop in the Mattel design center as the iconic doll turns 60, in El Segundo, California, December 7, 2018. /VCG Photo

Barbie doll prototypes are displayed at a workshop in the Mattel design center as the iconic doll turns 60, in El Segundo, California, December 7, 2018. /VCG Photo

Around the world, Barbie is as universally known as Coca-Cola or McDonald's, Baynard said during a recent visit to Mattel's design studio in El Segundo, a suburb of Los Angeles.

In all, more than one billion Barbie dolls have been sold since she made her debut at the American Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959.

She was invented by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, who was inspired by her own children to create the doll.

"Her daughter Barbara was limited in the choices of her toys - the only ones were baby dolls," Baynard recounted. 

Barbara Handler, daughter of Ruth Handler and namesake inspiration for the Barbie doll, poses for a photograph after placing her hands in cement that will adorn the sidewalk at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, November 13, 2002. /VCG Photo

Barbara Handler, daughter of Ruth Handler and namesake inspiration for the Barbie doll, poses for a photograph after placing her hands in cement that will adorn the sidewalk at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, November 13, 2002. /VCG Photo

"The only role she could imagine through that play was caregiver, mother," whereas Handler's son "could imagine being an astronaut, cowboy, pilot, surgeon."

Barbie is, of course, a shortened version of Barbara. 

The doll was supposed to teach girls "that they had choices, that they could be anything. In 1959, it was a radical idea!" Baynard said.

Barbie was an instant success. In the first year, 300,000 dolls were sold, he added.

Unattainable ideal?

From the start, Barbie's pinup measurements didn't immediately seem all that feminist, and would spark criticism for decades to come. 

Since the blonde beauty first hit stores, and after a torrent of complaints over what was seen as unrealistic proportions, Mattel has made many changes - introducing multiple body types and dozens of skin tones, including African and Asian looks.

"The problem here is not an 11.5-inch plastic object. The problem is the larger culture and the idea of femininity," said MG Lord, author of "Forever Barbie".

Heads of Barbie doll prototypes are displayed at a workshop in the Mattel design center as the iconic doll turns 60, in El Segundo, California, December 7, 2018. /VCG Photo

Heads of Barbie doll prototypes are displayed at a workshop in the Mattel design center as the iconic doll turns 60, in El Segundo, California, December 7, 2018. /VCG Photo

In 1965, four years before Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, Barbie became an astronaut. In 1968, the first black Barbie doll, a friend named Christie, hit store shelves. In the 1980s, more dolls with Asian looks were released, with characteristics of countries like India, Japan, and China.

Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global general manager for the Barbie brand, said that today, 55 percent of the dolls sold around the world have neither blonde hair nor blue eyes.

The entire design process for a new Barbie can last 12 to 18 months. Then, the prototype is sent from the California workshop to factories in China and Indonesia for mass production. 

Instagram photo shoots

Barbie is not only a toy store success - she has a massive social media presence, and is something of an "influencer," with millions of followers.

She has an actual identity: Barbie Millicent Roberts, who hails from the made-up town of Willows in the Midwest.

And now, she speaks directly to girls about her life, and important current topics.

A set of Barbie dolls themed on the film "Gone With the Wind." /VCG Photo

A set of Barbie dolls themed on the film "Gone With the Wind." /VCG Photo

In 2018, the brand launched a sweeping campaign to help young girls close the so-called "Dream Gap" - using Barbie to teach them to believe in themselves, and not to buy into sexist gender stereotypes.

So, does Barbie have it all as she hits 60, but remains forever young, still single and without kids (so far)? 

"The narrative of the Barbie brand is that she's a young woman and she's independent and pursuing careers," McKnight said.

(Top Photo: Barbie dolls are displayed at a workshop in the Mattel design center as the iconic doll turns 60, in El Segundo, California, U.S., on December 7, 2018. /VCG Photo)

Source(s): AFP