Barbie turns 60: Dating Blaine, befriending Mickey and other milestones in her history
The Singapore Flyer is celebrating six decades of Barbie with a special capsule running now till June.
Life in plastic is fantastic – especially if you're Barbie. The iconic doll turns 60 this Saturday (Mar 9), marking decades of make-believe games by children and over 200 career changes by the birthday girl herself.
Over a million Barbie dolls have been manufactured and sold by American toy maker Mattel, making it the company’s largest and most profitable line. Since 1987, Barbie has expanded into animated films, television specials, video games, music and even a YouTube vlogging channel.
From Mar 9 to Jun 30, visitors to the Singapore Flyer will get to ride on the Barbie Flight, a specially-designed capsule filled with Barbie livery in deep pink and baby blue. The Singapore Flyer will also be illuminated in pink every night till Mar 21.
As we approach six decades in the Barbie world, here are 6 things you probably didn’t know about Barbie.
1. BEFORE BARBIE, YOU HAD... PICTURE FRAMES
In 1945, Elliot Handler and his business partner Harold "Matt" Matson formed a small company to manufacture picture frames, calling it Mattel by combining parts of their names.
They later began using scraps from manufacturing the picture frames to make dollhouse furniture. The furniture turned out to be more profitable than the picture frames, and the duo decided to concentrate on toy manufacturing.
The company's first big seller was a toy ukulele named the Uke-a-doodle, launched in 1947. Matson later sold his share to Handler due to poor health, and Handler’s wife Ruth took over the role in the company.
2. BARBIE’S 'ADULT' GERMAN ANCESTRY
The idea for the first Barbie doll was conceived by Ruth Handler after she noticed her daughter playing with paper dolls. While vacationing in Europe, Handler bought the German Bild Lilli doll, modelled after a comic book favourite, back to America and convinced Mattel executives to manufacture it as a children’s toy.
Designed as part of a filler comic strip in the inaugural issue of Bild in 1952, the sexy, flirty character Lilli would appear in various states of undress to show off her figure. The Lilli doll was first sold in Germany in 1955, and although it was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits.
3. MICKEY MOUSE HELPED MAKE HER POPULAR
The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan and their clothes were hand-stitched by Japanese homeworkers. Named after Handler’s daughter Barbara, Barbie debuted on Mar 9, 1959 at the American International Toy Fair in New York to moderate sales.
Thankfully for the company, their heavy investment in The Mickey Mouse Club television show – still a novel marketing strategy then – proved effective. Mattel sold around 350,000 Barbie dolls in the first year of production.
4. KEN WASN'T THE ONLY ONE – SHE ONCE DATED BLAINE
The life and backstory of Barbara Millicent Roberts were fleshed out in a series of novels published by Random House in the 1960’s, along with details of her relationship with boyfriend Ken Carson, introduced in 1961 and named after the Handlers’ son.
A news release from Mattel in the Valentine’s Day of 2004 announced that Barbie and Ken had decided to split up (after 45 years of dating) but in February 2006, they hoped to rekindle their relationship after Ken had a makeover.
While they were on a break, Barbie was reportedly friendly with Blaine O’Hare, an Australian surfer. The Blaine doll remained popular for two years until Ken was reintroduced.
5. SHE'S NOW OVER HER BODY IMAGE ISSUES
Barbie’s unrealistic body proportions have been criticised many times over the decades. Her thin wrists, neck and ankles, along with her waist to hip ratio has been blamed for low self-esteem and eating disorders among children who may idealise the doll’s body.
When the Slumber Party Barbie was launched in 1963, the doll came with a pink bathroom scale set to 110 pounds and a one-page diet book with the words “DON’T EAT!”
In 1998, the doll’s waist was expanded and bust made smaller, reportedly to reflect a more realistic female body type.
Staring March 2016, Barbie dolls became available in three new body shapes: Petite, tall and curvy, in addition to the original slender frame. In total, the Barbie line for 2016 featured four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles.
6. BARBIE THE YOUTUBE STAR
Like her 200 careers, Barbie has evolved to take on the Internet. Nearly five million people around the world watch her animated vlogs on YouTube, where she has been praised for helping explain female empowerment and teenage issues to her young audience.
In one of her earlier videos, Barbie discussed depression urged her subscribers not to “camouflage” how they feel.
"Don't hide how you're feeling. It gets you lost," she says, before closing with the line, "You can't have the spring without the winter, and I think the winter is beautiful too."