Barbie and Ken Meet (1961 TV Commercial): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5pcyHT838g
She’s been around since 1959, she’s shorter than a 30 centimetre ruler and her movie is the highest grossing film of 2023. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to Barbie—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Christie Kijurina.
And I’m Bryce Corbett.
Bryce, everywhere I turn lately, things have been turning pink. No, I don’t have some weird eye condition, Barbie pink is everywhere! The doll that trotted across my bedroom floor more than (clears throat) years ago is back with a bang. And not only that, her boyfriend Ken is having his moment in the spotlight too. I’m certain many of our listeners will have seen the Barbie movie, and might be wondering why their parents are in love with Barbie too.
Today, we’ll take you through WHO created Barbie in the first place, HOW she’s remained relevant for so many years, and WHAT lessons Barbie still has for us in the 2020s.
Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!
Bryce, Barbie was created sixty four years ago by a lady named Ruth Handler, who, with her husband Elliot, started Mattel, the toy company that still makes Barbie today. Ruth and Elliot had a daughter named Barbara, and Ruth noticed that while lots of girls had baby dolls to play with, her daughter enjoyed dressing one dimensional paper dolls in fashionable paper outfits that a teenager might wear.
Why didn’t she have a normal fashion doll that she could dress?
Well, that just wasn’t a thing. At that time they didn’t exist. Girls could only play at being mums or caregivers. It wasn’t until the Handler family went on holidays to Switzerland in 1956, that the Lilli doll, that looked more like a grown-up, caught Barbara and Ruth’s attention. Even then, Ruth still had some trouble convincing the Mattel executives that this grown-up doll was a good idea, but finally in 1959, Barbie (named after Ruth’s daughter Barbara) was released at the International Toy Fair in New York City.
Hmmm that explains Barbie, but what about Ken?
Great question Bryce! Almost immediately, Ruth started recieving letters from girls wanting a boyfriend for Barbie. It took until 1961, but Ken (named after Ruth’s son Kenneth), finally met Barbie.
I heard that they met on the set of a TV commercial. Ken was looking very handsome in a tuxedo.
That’s absolutely right, Bryce. And one year later, Barbie got her first Dream House. It was made of cardboard at the time, but a girl’s gotta start somewhere.
Well that’s all well and good, but how has Barbie managed to stick around for so many years?
When Ruth Handler created Barbie, she had the idea that, quote, ” through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.” And so, Barbie took on a leading roll in modelling jobs that women could aspire to as society evolved.
Oh, that makes sense. That must be why Barbie has had more than 250 careers!
She’s one busy lady!
In her first 10 years, Barbie was a flight attendant, a nurse, a ballerina, tennis player and even an astronaut. Later, she became a surgeon, a business executive, joined all tof he armed forces, and has even run for President multiple times.
Barbie would make a brilliant President! And it’s not only her jobs that have helped Barbie to remain a popular toy with kids and parents. Over the years, Barbie has been an ambassador for diversity. In a time when racism was sadly pretty common, Barbie had friends of different ethnicities. In 1980 Barbies from more than 40 different countries hit the stores.
Even with all this innovation, sales of Barbie dolls dropped off in the early 2000s. People had started to see Barbie as too perfect and materialistic. She wasn’t reflective of what real life is like. Plus, kids were really crazy about Bratz and Disney’s Frozen movies and merch.
That’s true Bryce. The traditional Barbie’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed, long-legged figure is not at all realistic. And setting her up as an ideal for young girls was found to be damaging to their self esteem. Scientists discovered that girls actually felt less capable after playing with Barbie than they did with Mrs Potato Head. Parents no longer felt comfortable giving a Barbie doll as a birthday party gift. So the people at Mattel went back to the drawing board and in 2015 Barbies started to roll off the production line with 100 different skin tones, different hair textures, eye colours and four different (more realistic) body shapes. She could even wear flat shoes!! And the new Barbies also had physical challenges which reflected the kids playing with her. She might use a wheelchair, or a hearing aide, have colourful prosthetic limbs or have Downs Syndrome.
Yes, but what about Ken?
Bryce, you seem a bix fixated on Ken…but ok. Well, at first Ken had moulded plastic hair, but in 1973 ‘Mod Hair Ken’ was released with shoulder-length hair that had proper roots. You could even accessorise him with a mustache, beard or sideburns (it was a 70s thing). Then their was Malibu Ken; African American Ken with a great afro hairstyle; and Shave’n’Style Ken, a modern 90s man in blue jeans and a white T.
Ken became his own man for a while, when he and Barbie broke up in 2004, but happily, they reunited on Valentines Day, 2011. So Barbie and Ken have changed with the times, but what has pushed Barbie to top of the toy status in 2023?
Oh Bryce, anyone who has seen The Barbie movie will know the answer to that one, but let me break it down for you (no spoilers I promise). Barbie is a doll, and every day in Barbieland is a perfect day, as it should be…except that’s not how things are out here in the real world. So for Barbie to continue to remain relevant, the creators of the movie needed Barbie to know that there’s still a lot of work to do in our world around equal rights for women, and actually, maybe being perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I certainly wouldn’t want to walk on my toes 24/7.
Me neither! Well, whatever they’ve done seems to have hit a nerve, because the Barbie movie recently became the highest grossing movie of the year, overtaking Super Mario Bros. It’s now Warner Brothers highest grossing movie of all time, beating out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And as of now, has seen more than two billion dollars in ticket sales!
Business executive Barbie is on the case with every imaginable Barbie product being released just in time for the movie, from fashion and hair accessories, to Barbie rollerblades and … Barbie pasta?? Since 1959, more than a billion (that’s billion with a ‘b’) Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide, and according to Mattel a Barbie doll is sold every two seconds. Oh, and before you ask, Bryce, a Ken doll sells every 20 seconds.
So movie Barbie is saying that everyone should be treated equally. Every woman is Barbie and every man is Ken…no matter their colour, size or shape?
Exactly, and that you can be a superhero in highheels or flats. Whatever you choose. You are Kenough!
1. In which year was the Barbie Doll first released at the International Toy Fair in New York?
2 Where did Barbie and Ken meet?
3 Which movie did the Barbie movie overtake to be the top grossing movie of 2023?
- On the set of a TV commercial
- The Super Mario Bros. Movie