by Ashley Barron and Lauren Gates

The Face of the American Dream

As the aspiration for many young girls, Barbie serves as an icon for the American Dream. She represents the desire many have for fantasy, money, clothes and a desirable body image. As the image of "perfect" has changed over time, so has Barbie to match it.

Prior to the Barbie

Before Barbie, there was no such thing as an adult doll. There were baby dolls, China dolls, little rag dolls and really creepy plastic baby dolls. This was the life before Barbie, a world of little children playing with there baby dolls pretending they were mothers. Their imagination and their way of playing games was about to evolve.


Barbie was brought to life in march 1959, when a mother, Ruth Handler was watching her daughter play with paper people figures. The girl was making these dolls adult people in her game, who had a job and house and cleaned. This sprung the idea of having an adult doll, not a babydoll. This would lead Ruth to making the first barbie and contribution across the states. Nothing made Ruth happier then seeing her daughter, Barbara, playing with these creative dolls.

Barbie and Ken

Two years after Barbie was introduced in 1959, her boyfriend Ken Carson was brought into the picture. Barbie and Ken are based off of siblings Barbara and Ken Handler, children of the creator of the Barbie doll, Ruth Handler. Barbie and Ken “met” on the set of a commercial in 1961.

Impact on the Decade

The American dream was first used in 1931 by James Truslow in his book “The Epic of America”. The American dream is the idea that through hard work, a person can become and achieve whatever they wish. Barbie is a big symbol of the American dream, because she has things that many people see in their own american dream. This includes a big house, clothes, lots of extra money to spend and happiness. The Barbie doll impacted the decade because people were seeking out the American Dream even more once the war was over. Barbie was an example of someone who had achieved, and many aspired to be in that same situation.

Barbie also had a huge impact on the way children, specifically girls play with toys. Before Barbie, little girls mostly had baby dolls to play with. However, girls began to show an interest in playing with toys that looked older so they could do more grown-up things. As Ruth Handler puts it, “Through the doll, the girl can be anything she wanted to be.”

Another Impact Barbie had was about feminism. Creator Ruth Handler believed that girls should be able to be and do what they want to and not have to follow the typical standards of what a woman “should” be. Barbie obviously wasn’t the typical girl and through her, girls could learn to do what they wanted regardless of female stereotypes.
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Connection to Today

As we all know, Barbie has a very extreme body type. She is thin and extremely tall setting unrealistic expectations for the young female audience. Many body image issues are said to have come from this and other similar things such as celebrities in magazines and other types of dolls. This unrealistic, artificial “perfect” is never found here in the real world, but it gives people the idea that it does, and that they can never be like it. Today, it is rumored that there are new Barbies coming out that have a more realistic body shape that girls can relate to. Barbie may not be the face of the American Dream so much anymore, but she is still the favorite companion to many young girls.


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