AT&D #47. The Transformation of Barbie

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 occupations 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, and viewpoints on this best-selling doll brand. First of all, Barbie’s look has gone through various changes (mainly her hair, makeup, and face size while generally retaining eye color and original head structure). Changes throughout the years have included different hairstyles (presumably based on the decade) as well as clothing, mascara, and even skin tone.

As far as occupations go, Barbie herself has been through a plethora of them including but not limited to: aerobics instructor, dentist, paratrooper, firefighter, and architect. Generally speaking, the job backgrounds that Barbie was subjected to in early years contrast strikingly to the present day as women were more restricted to lesser, pink-collar jobs in the past. Currently, the recently added careers to Barbie’s repertoire reflect what real-life women currently do for work (hence the more blue and white collar careers that the dolls emphasize more today than in the 1960s through the 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 may have differing ethnicities based on the region (i.e. currently there is a Latina Barbie in Latin America). This is very important to note because not only is this doll known worldwide in her original form (amongst girls of all ages and races) but to have representation from a wide array of its owners means that girls can have something to personally relate to, even if that something is a toy.

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 / socio-economic trends in women and by making it show in Barbie, the message spreads to the younger audience – a new generation whom would be empowered by what a toy represents beyond the simple premise of it being played with.

I agree with Barbie changing over time because since these dolls are a role model for young girls, the different professions and looks based on a given time period very well promotes the same in its core audience; in a sense Barbie’s looks and behavior can establish relevance for what girls today are and should be and by looking at the past, we can tell what the history was like at the time for women based in some small part on Barbie’s look.

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