AT&D #47. The Transformation of Barbie

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The Barbie doll is the world’s best-selling toy. Three Barbies are sold every second. Sales each year exceed $2 billion. In recent years, Barbie has undergone significant changes in order to broaden her appeal. Using your own personal experience and using the internet for research (web sites, wikis, commerce sites, etc). Answer the following questions:

• How did Barbie looks years ago? (describe her physical appearance) vs. now?

• What were her occupation options then vs now?

• What ethnic options are there now for Barbie? 

• Do you think the changes in Barbie have been financially driven, socially driven or both? 

• Do you agree with Barbies changes over time? 

Based on my research, I found out quite a bit about the history/use/ viewpoints on this best-selling doll. First of all, Barbie’s look has gone through a variety of changes (mainly on the hair, makeup, and face size while generally retaining eye color and original structure of the head). Changes throughout the years have included different hairstyles (presumably based on the decade/fashion trends), as well as clothing, mascara, and even skin tone.

As far as occupations go, Barbie has been through a plethora of them including but not limited to: aerobics instructor, dentist, paratrooper, firefighter, architect, etc. Generally speaking, the job options in early years compared to now were more restrictive as the recently added careers reflect what women currently take for jobs (hence the more blue and white-collar careers that the dolls emphasize more today than in the 1960s-1980s).

When looking at ethnic options for Barbies, certain designs have indeed deviated from her constant look and in 1980, the first African-American Barbie was sold in stores. Likewise, Barbies around the world can have differing ethnicities, based on the region of course (i.e. currently there is a Latina Barbie in Latin America). This is very important to note because this is a doll that is known worldwide (amongst girls of allages and races) and to have representation from all its owners means that girls can have something to personally relate to.

I think the use of Barbie has been both financially and socially driven; the former because the doll sells so well around the world that it generates millions in revenue and the latter because the varying designs have been all equally impacted by changing social trends in women and by making it show in Barbie, the message spreads into the young audience (which they’ll possibly keep as they grow up).

Lastly, I agree with Barbie changing over time because since these dolls are a role model for young girls, the different professions/ looks based on the time period promotes the same in its audience; in a sense Barbie’s looks/behavior can establish relevence for what girls of today are and by looking at the past, we can tell what the history was like at the time based on Barbie’s look.

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