Barbie in the 50s

Natasha Kadkhodaian & Morgan Hartman

Who Barbie Really Is

Ruth Handler was already an accomplished toy designer but changed the 50s completely with her invention of the Barbie. Ruth Handler was watching her daughter, named Barbara (Barbie), playing with dolls when this million dollar idea occurred. A popular toy before the Barbie was baby dolls, but as her daughter and millions of other girls, they prefer paper dolls of teenagers. Ruth Handler had the idea of making a real doll that looked like a teenager to fill the need for young girls everywhere. The doll would also have clothes, jewelry, purses, and so forth, furniture for the new doll's house was also available. Naming it was easy for Ruth, she picked Barbie to be named after her daughter Barbara.

This picture shows Ruth Handler with one of the first Barbie dolls she ever produced back in the 50s.

“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.” -Ruth Handler

Barbie's Image and Message Motivations

Barbie was originally modeled to replicate 1950s stars like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor. This was apparent through her high arched brows, red lips, a sassy ponytail with curly bangs and a coy, and a sideways glance. Even her figure was high fashion and model-esque, with pale, ivory skin, long slim legs and a narrow waist and hips. Barbie wasn't created to replicate model or famous people, but to also inspire and motivate young girls. Ruth Handler greater a career line of Barbies to help show girls they can be beautiful and successful; that girls can do or be anyone they want to be. For example, the first female astronaut, Russian Valentina Tereshkova surfaced in 1963 and Barbie soon followed. Celebrating the excitement of the space program while showing girls that any career is within reach.

Barbie Becomes Popular

Ruth Handler introduced Barbie, the Teen-Age Fashion Model, to skeptical toy buyers at the annual Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. Never before had they seen a doll so completely unlike the baby and toddler dolls popular at the time. Here are a few numbers that illustrate Barbie compared to other daily costs. A gallon of gas was 25 cents, the average annual wage was $5,000 and the #1 Ponytail Barbie sold for $3. Additional fashions based on the latest runway trends from Paris ranged from $1 to $5. In the first year, 300,000 Barbie dolls were sold.

This is a screenshot from the first commercial that aired on television advertising the Barbie toy.

The Impact on The Decade

Barbie was introduced at just the right time in history, with the ending of the war and the beginning of television. The economy was perfect for wanting to sell an affordable toy to the middle class population. And television helped the makers of Barbie in advertising their new product. This toy became very influential on the role women and girls had in society. She became an icon and showed young girls that they could be more than just housewives. They learned vital ideals about growing up and being independent through Barbie. After a few years, Ruth Handler introduced a boy Barbie, Ken. He was helpful in teaching young girl's the correct mannerisms for dating. Barbie was more than just a toy, she also played an important role in teaching young girls everywhere how to be independent.
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This picture shows how the Barbie doll has changed through the years to modernize and meet today's standards.

Connections to Today and Solutions for the Future

Barbie started out as a simple toy for children but ended up drastically changing and impacting our world today. Barbie was more than just a doll, she was a role model and icon for women in society. She let girls dream past being a housewife and help them understand that they can be anything they want to. Today she still motivates young girls to be doctors, teachers or astronauts. Barbie displayed a positive image for women in the work force, but has been recently taking a hit in media today. Barbie was less popular for it's positive image and was known for introducing unrealistic body ideals to young girls that would later seriously affect them when they were teenagers. Barbie responded to these negative accusations and came out with a new brand of Barbies in different shapes and sizes. Our world and values are constantly changing and my solution for the future is, to keep modifying Barbie to adapt to our dynamic world.
1959 First EVER Barbie Commercial High Quaility HQ!


Mattel Global Brand Communications (2009). Barbie in 1959-60s. Retrieved March 14,2016, from

Pendergast, Sara (2006). Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from|CX3425100392&docType=GALE

Wepman, Dennis (2008) Ruth Handler. Retrieved March 14, 2016 from