Happy Birthday Barbie! A Look at Mattel’s Iconic Doll

Barbara Millicent Roberts — better known as Barbie — debuted today in 1959. Here's how she has changed the world in six decades.
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On March 9, 1959, Barbara Millicent Roberts made her debut in a black and white one-piece swimsuit — but you probably know her better as Barbie.

That’s right! Today is Barbie’s birthday. And while she’s officially 62 today, she doesn’t look a day over 25!

Of course, despite her lack of aging over the years — hey, it’s all that plastic — Barbie has gone through plenty of changes since the world first met her back in 1959.

Barbie’s Introduction to the World

First introduced at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959, she wore a black and white striped swimsuit and that signature high ponytail — which was available in either blonde or brunette. She had pouty red lips and a demure sideways glance.

At the time, an adult-bodied doll made for children was unheard of. Most dolls at the time were baby dolls — representations of infants. This “Teen-age Fashion Model” hit the market and has become one of the biggest successes ever.

According to Lisa McKnight, global general manager and senior vice president for Barbie, 100 dolls are sold every minute. And this iconic doll has a 98 percent brand-awareness rate worldwide, which means that you are more likely to have heard of Barbie than nearly anything else.

But even after six decades of success, Barbie still continues to evolve.

The Evolution of Barbie Into Diversity and Inclusivity

“We’ve got to keep pushing because society changes so rapidly,” said Kim Culmone, senior vice president of design for Barbie. “We want to stay in step with that.”

This is probably why Barbie has had more careers than most people have hairs on their heads. She was a surgeon in 1973, at a time when only 9 percent of all doctors were women. Barbie was already a businesswoman and an astronaut in the ‘60s. She’s been a game developer, a music teacher, a geologist, an astrophysicist, and even a U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant.

In the last few years, the company has gone above and beyond to make Barbie more inclusive, and we’re not just talking about careers here. Barbie has been given quite the makeover physically.

Sure, you can still get that classic Barbie doll — though it’s worth noting that her waist was widened in the late ‘90s. But starting in 2016, Mattel started making Barbie in three other body types: tall, petite, and curvy.

And while Mattel released the first Black and Hispanic dolls named Barbie in 1980, they’ve also introduced vast combinations of facial features, hair types, and a range of skin tones in recent years.

To top it off, Barbie has their Signature line, which are collectors dolls that are largely aimed at an older audience. You’ll find the likes of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and civil rights icon Rosa Parks. They’ve modeled dolls after actor and activist Yara Shahidi, Susan B. Anthony, and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad (which made history as the first hijab-wearing Barbie).

Dr. Maya Angelou Honored With Her Very Own Barbie Doll

They’re now honoring literary icon Dr. Maya Angelou with her very own Barbie — one of the newest additions to the series.

Dr. Maya Angelou Barbie Doll
Barbie | Mattel

She joins the “Inspiring Women Series,” which aims to pay homage to “incredible heroines of their time; courageous women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before.”

Celebrating Women’s History Month With Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie Doll

And now, to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) and Women’s History Month (March), Mattel announced the latest historical role model to join the Barbie ranks: Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie doll
Barbie | Mattel

“A champion of policies around civil and economic rights, Eleanor Roosevelt’s passionate advocacy was unwavering, even when faced with resistance,” Mattel said in a statement. “Earning the title ‘First Lady of the World’ for her hard work and dedication to humanitarian efforts, Eleanor Roosevelt’s perseverance redefined the role of women in politics and public life.”

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