Barbie: Inspiring Girls Since ’59

Some girls aspire to be Beyoncé or Kendall Jenner when they grow up, while others long to be the next Amelia Earhart or first female president. On March 9, 1959, as the fight for equal rights was at a peak, the mother of all role models for women was born—a doll that was not only something that girls could look at and play with, but a toy with much more meaning. While society was dominated by men, and women were mainly seen as caretakers who were to act and dress conservatively, Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, debuted the norm-defying plastic doll known as Barbie.

Vitrine from the exhibition “Barbie” at Museé des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, 2016.
(Photos courtesy of Assouline Publishing)

Barbie emerged with a matured body that angered mothers all over, with many taken aback by the plastic doll’s adult dimensions that had never before been introduced in a toy. Her fashion was equally provocative, as she sported a black-and-white swimsuit, high heels, and hoop earrings to complement her sassy expression and conspicuous makeup. Barbie had a look that many girls and women quietly hoped to emulate and, despite widespread skepticism, her individuality and rebellious nature made her even more popular and iconic.

Presidential candidate Barbie with her VP, 2016.

As time passed and women came to take on more dynamic roles, so too did Barbie. Over time, she evolved from a fashion model to the first female astronaut, firewoman, chef, pilot, doctor, director—and, now, first female president. She was successful in whichever career she filled, living a life of luxury in her dream house and vacationing on her private jet. She was independent—showing girls they could be anything if they put their mind to it. “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that…a little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices,” says Ruth Handler

This year, as the world celebrated the doll’s birthday, Assouline published a new book, Barbie: Sixty Years of Inspiration, that beautifully depicts Barbie’s story and progression through the years. While the book shows her in her most glorious moments, there’s still progress to be made for women, and you can be sure that Barbie will be leading the charge.

Cover of Vogue, January 1950, with model Jean Patchett (left), and the original Barbie in 1959 (right).