Barbie turns 57 today.
Introduced at the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959 as a teenage fashion model from a small town in Wisconsin, Barbie was supposed to represent the idea that women had choices, to tell “the little girl [that she] could be anything she wanted to be,” her creator, Ruth Handler, has said.
In the nearly six decades of Barbie’s reign as a global cultural icon, little girls and beauty standards have evolved, and Mattel (mat) has tried to remake Barbie to keep her relevant, but sometimes failed miserably.
In celebration of her 57th birthday, here’s a look back at some of the major ways Mattel has tried to reinvent Barbie — the weird, the politically incorrect dolls as well as the ones that hit the mark.
1963: Barbie sleeps over and has a diet plan
Mattel introduces Slumber Party Barbie, with pink satin-like pajamas, a pink robe, pink slippers, and a mirror. Most notably, Slumber Party Barbie also comes with a pink bathroom scale set to 110 pounds—and a one-page diet book with one simple rule: “DON’T EAT!” The next year, Mattel renames the doll Barbie Sleepytime Gal . The scale is gone, but the diet plan stays.
1975: Skipper causes a stir
Growing Up SkipperCourtesy of The Strong
Skipper Roberts was introduced as Barbie’s little sister in 1965, but it’s her 1975 version that raises eyebrows. In an attempt to represent girls’ changes from child to woman, Mattel makes Growing Up Skipper Barbie. When you rotate her arm, her torso lengthens and her breasts grow. Responding to public outcry, Mattel pulls the doll. When Skipper is reintroduced in 1979, her breasts are stationary.
1992: Barbie learns to talk
Barbie’s first words include “Math is tough,” “I love shopping,” “Party Dresses Are Fun,” and “Do you have a crush on anyone?” Several groups protest. American Association of University Women (AAUW), for one, chides Mattel for perpetuating gender stereotypes with the doll’s math-is-tough declaration. Mattel drops the phrase from Barbie’s vocabulary.
1994: Barbie is African American, sponsored by Oreo
Oreo School Time Fun BarbieCourtesy of The Strong
In partnership with Nabisco, maker of Oreo Cookies, Mattel comes out with an African American edition called Oreo Fun Barbie. The doll is quickly recalled after public outcry that “Oreo” is a derogatory word used to describe someone as black on the outside, white on the inside.
Teen Talk BarbieCourtesy of The Strong
1998: Barbie gets a new body
At 38 years old, Really Rad Barbie’s body is redesigned to better reflect the fashion of the time. That means slimmer hips, a wider waistline, and a smaller bust, according to Mattel, which wants Barbie “to have more of a teenage physique” for her “hip-huggers to look right.”
2007: Skipper’s controversial 1975 version returns
Although Growing Up Skipper caused a stir in 1975 and was pulled from shelves, Mattel introduces a similar version known as the My Scene line of dolls. They grew taller and bustier with a twist of a knob located on the dolls’ backs.
2008: Barbie wears fishnets
Barbie gets a makeover and appears on retail shelves with fishnet stockings, a tight bodysuit, and a black motorcycle jacket. Public outcry ensues from Christian groups protesting Barbie’s over-sexualization.
Totally Stylin’ Tattoos BarbieCourtesy of The Strong
2009: Barbie gets tattoos
Mattel introduces Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie, which came with a set of tattoos, including a lower back tattoo spelling out K-E-N, in honor of her long-time boyfriend. Some stores pull the doll amid customer complaints. Nonetheless, a tattooed Barbie reappears on shelves in 2011 when Mattel introduces a limited edition doll in partnership with Los Angeles-based fashion company tokidoki, complete with tattoos across the neck, shoulders, arms, and chest.
2010: Barbie gets a warning from the FBI
The Barbie Video Girl doll, with a built-in video camera, is displayed at Toy Fair 2010 in New York, U.S., on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010.Photograph by Jin Lee — Bloomberg via Getty Images
The technological era is here, and Video Girl Barbie has a tiny video camera embedded in her chest that records up to 30 minutes of video, which can be uploaded into a computer. The FBI issues a warning that Video Girl Barbie could be used for the “production and possession of child pornography.”
2013: Mattel’s first handicapped doll is introduced
Share a Smile BeckyCourtesy of The Strong
Barbie is in a wheelchair, but critics find that Share A Smile Becky’s long hair often got caught in the wheels. Mattel (mat) tweaks the doll, but the company continues to receive criticism about Becky, particularly because the doll’s wheelchair doesn’t fit into Barbie’s Dream House elevator or her cars. Mattel discontinues the doll.
2014: Barbie lands on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition
A mock-up cover of Barbie on a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is displayed at the Mattel booth at the American International Toy Fair in New York.Mark Lennihan — AP
With more than 100 careers under her belt, Barbie moves on to her next one as a swimsuit model, landing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition with a photo shoot with Walter Iooss. SI’s front page calls Barbie “the doll that started it all.”
Some of the more recent Barbies have been better received.
Entrepreneur BarbieCourtesy of Mattel
2014: Barbie becomes entrepreneurial
Mattel introduces Entrepreneur Barbie, which the toy manufacturing company hopes will resonate in a woman-forward, entrepreneurial age. The doll comes with a LinkedIn profile and is backed by 10 real-life female entrepreneurs called her chief inspiration officers (CIO)—including Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, and Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss.
2015: Barbie meets artificial intelligence
Hello BarbiePhotograph by Mark Lennihan — File via AP Photo
Mattel partners with tech startup, ToyTalk, founded by former Pixar executives, to design Hello Barbie and her accompanying app. The tech doll has a microphone and the ability for two-way conversation, much like Apple’s Siri. The more the doll is spoken to, the better her responses are, as the servers remember previous conversations. Soon after the doll’s introduction, however, security firm Bluebox Security releases a report warning that attackers could hack the servers and access child-doll chit-chat.
2015: Barbie gets African-American, Asian, and mixed race features
Zendaya attends the Barbie Rock ‘N Royals concert experience at Hollywood Palladium on September 26, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Photograph by Jason LaVeris — FilmMagic/Getty Images
As part of new CEO Christopher Sinclair’s comeback plan, and in response to the increasing number of American children who are members of a minority ethnic group or race, Mattel releases Barbies in seven new skin tones, 14 hairstyles, and even bendable ankles so that the dolls could wear flats. Earlier in 2015, Mattel had come out with limited edition dolls for singer/actress Zendaya and Golden Globe-nominated director Ava DuVernay.
Additionally, at the end of 2015, Mattel moves away from gender-based marketing for the first time, with an advertisement for Barbie featuring a boy and targeting boys.
2016: Barbie gets new body shapes
Mattel unveils a new line of Barbie bodies in 2016 with the hashtag #TheDollEvolves. Starting on March 1, Barbie dolls become available on retail shelves with three new body shapes: petite, tall, and curvy, in addition to her slender frame. Barbie also has seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, and 33 hairstyles (24 new ones, including an afro and curly red) to choose from, and of course, a new clothing line.
A new Barbie line for 2016 will feature four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles and of course, new clothes.Courtesy of Mattel
In a statement, Mattel’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Richard Dickson, said that “[Barbie’s] ability to evolve and grow with the times, while staying true to her spirit, is central to why Barbie is the number one fashion doll in the world.”
Mattel is, in fact, still the number-one toymaker in the world. Athere are still challenges ahead for Barbie, after four consecutive years of decline, Barbie sales grew for the first time to $328 million in the fourth quarter in 2015.