How Barbie Has Changed (For Over 50 Years)


If you’ve read anything about Barbie dolls this year, it’s probably referred to the changes that have recently happened to the toy line.

Yes, for the first time in Barbie’s 57 year career, she is now available in four different body types: Original, Petite, Tall, and Curvy. That may not seem like a big deal to those who keep their noses out of Barbie’s business, but in truth this change is significant on multiple levels. Barbie has drawn a great deal of criticism in recent years for her unrealistic proportions, and in a world that is becoming increasingly more body conscious, this point of contention has only grown. Combine this with gradually declining sales of the iconic doll, it’s clear that Mattel needed to do something about the situation. Not only have the new Barbies broadened the toys’ appeal in the marketplace, people all over the internet have once again made Barbie the popular girl to talk about, just like she used to be.

However, if we’re being honest with ourselves, the new body types for Barbie are not quite as bold as some of us might think they are. In fact, these varying options for Barbie’s image fall directly in line with Barbie’s original design from 1959.


To the casual observer, Barbie would likely be characterized as the blonde bombshell with a flashy pink sports car who likes to shop for glittery clothes to impress her boyfriend Ken. Yet even when Barbie first debuted, she didn’t come with any of the mythos that would develop over the next 50 years. Available in both blonde and brunette hairstyles, Barbie appealed to young girls by allowing them to imagine what their futures might look like in their adult years. As you might have read in our post about the history of Barbie, the doll was actually a significant departure from common “baby” dolls that placed their owners into faux maternal roles. Barbie was always designed to be a reflection of what her owner would like to be when she grew up, and this concept proved so successful that Barbie became a staple of pop culture for decades to come.

With this mission statement in mind, it’s also important to understand that Barbie has consistently been a reflection of cultural norms. In 1959, Barbie portrayed very traditional values that focused primarily on beauty and elegance, but over time her image grew to be increasingly more independent. This is why we see Barbie dressed as a fashion editor in 1960, yet in 1986 she’s a rock star and by 1992 she’s running for president. It’s been an obvious joke to point out that Barbie’s resume includes over 150 different careers, but detaching the singular character of Barbie from her purpose for young girls makes this progression seem perfectly logical. Even Barbie’s skin color has varied since 1980, though this too has been modified and developed further as ethnic awareness continues to increase.


So how do the new body types for Barbie stack up? According to analysis from the BBC, while Curvy Barbie is significantly closer to realistic proportions than the original, she would still have a “slim” BMI if she was a real 5’6” woman. In other words, Curvy Barbie is still thinner than the average woman. That said, it can also be argued that Barbie’s body types should primarily be compared with other Barbies, considering that Mattel’s focus groups of young girls still considered the realistically proportioned Curvy Barbie “fat.” Yet regardless of analysis, it’s clear that many kids have taken kindly to the new Barbie dolls. A post on The Guardian showcases a young girl who does not seem to notice Barbie’s weight, but rather enjoys the doll more because it’s easier to hold.

Either way, if there’s one thing’s for certain, it’s that we’ll all be talking about Barbie and her changes for quite some time. More importantly, no matter how you feel about Barbie’s new shapes and sizes, it’s clear she’s doing the one thing she’s always done best; adapting to modern culture and letting young girls dream. If there’s anything that has yet to be done to Barbie to increase her appeal, then you can bet your bottom dollar that changes to Barbie’s toy line do not end here.

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