Barbie is nearly 64, but it appears she’s still as relevant as when she first burst on to the scene in the late 50s.

The original 1959 Barnie boasted a nipped-in waist, a cascading blonde ponytail, an animal print swimsuit and kitten heels and was based on an, ahem, marital aid doll called Lilli.

Eastern Daily Press:

Opinion was instantly divided as to whether Barbie was a hero or villain: religious conservatives thought she was too risqué, campaigners highlighted her physical proportions were anatomically impossible, little girls worshipped her.

Much has changed in Barbie’s world since 1959, but one thing has resolutely stayed the same: Barbara Millicent Roberts remains hugely popular in the toy market and she’s arguably more aspirational than ever. It’s still very much Barbie’s world

Today’s Barbie fights for gay rights, body inclusivity and open borders, she eats avocado on toast and she occasionally wears a hijab: it’s a move which has seen the brand try to appeal to Millennial parents who are trying to make more socially conscious decisions.

Keen their childrens’ toys are more ethnically-diverse, progressive and buck old gender stereotypes that led so many to condemn the Barbie brand, parents hold the purse-strings albeit it’s their children that make the buying decisions via birthday and Christmas lists.

Eastern Daily Press:

You can now choose to buy Barbie in a range of body types, skin tones and with a wide range of eye colours and hairstyles and these days she’s not the “teenage fashion model” of 1959, but rather a career woman with limitless options

To be fair to toymaker Mattel, in many ways Barbie has been ahead of the curve for decades: she was an astronaut in 1965 four years before the NASA moon mission and the first black doll was created in 1969 in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Presidential Candidate Barbie was sold in the election year of 1992, a full 24 years before Hillary Clinton ran for the top job: it may be a while before we see President Barbie.

She’s been a vet, a surgeon, an Olympic athlete, a rapper, a pilot, a news anchor, a film director, musician, photojournalist, farmer, entrepreneur, restaurant owner, food truck operator, English language teacher, dentist, army medic, paratrooper, paramedic, campaign fundraiser, judge, detective, campaign manager, architect, space scientist, zoologist, computer engineer, chemist and race car driver. 

Eastern Daily Press:

But there have also been the own goals: her choice of reading material in the 70s as babysitting Barbie (a diet book which read: “DON’T EAT”), her choice of words when given a voice in 1992 (“Math is tough!” “Let’s plan our dream wedding!”) and the time that pals Brian and Steven had to mansplain how to fix her PC when she was computer engineer Barbie spring to mind.

Regardless of her stellar careers, however, it’s still fashion Barbie that outsells them all.

This year, Barbie is set for another big moment in the spotlight as Mattel and Warner Brothers bring a live-action Barbie film to the big screen with Margot Robbie starring in and producing the Greta Gerwig-directed movie.

Prepare for pink-on-pink multi-Barbie action, a real-life Dream House and Ryan Gosling as our heroine’s perma-love interest Ken and prepare also for a pink tidal wave of merchandise.

Nearly a billion Barnies have been sold around the world, and sometimes Katie Barnes, who lives in South Norfolk with husband James and daughters Annie and Ida, feels as if most of them are in her house.

Eastern Daily Press:

“When we had Annie, my husband and I were determined not to enforce gender stereotypes so she was dressed in bright colours and we didn’t buy pretty pink toys, just toys that any child the age she was would love,” said Katie.

“But then as soon as she started meeting other children, she just went straight for baby dolls and prams and the pink, sparkly toys started to invade the house!”

Annie and Ida have their own Barbie housing estate with two Barbie Dream Houses.

“One was an original-style Barbie House which we got second-hand, one like I used to have with a lift, and the other is a copycat house made of wood rather than plastic and they play with them to death,” said Katie.

“It’s really imaginative play and they can lose themselves in stories they make up for hours. It doesn’t matter to them that the sounds don’t work and the Barbie television never switched on, they just adore the houses and using their imaginations.

“We’ve got Barbies in wheelchairs and with shaved heads, all kinds of different dolls that lead to lots of questions and lots of different kinds of play. It’s definitely more than just dressing up a fashionable doll.”
Katie said that Barbie, and the associated Netflix series, had opened up a range of conversations with Annie and Ida which other toys had not, about lots of different topics, including race, disability and body shape.

Eastern Daily Press:

“I don’t think you can ever escape the initial stereotype of Barbie – the slim, blonde model with a tiny waist and big breasts – but the Barbie brand is finding ways in which to steer children towards play which is far more about the world they live in,” she said.

“It’s a more subtle way to speak to them about big issues, one which means something to them and which they can incorporate into the way they play and learn. 

“I think it’s easy to write Barbie off, but actually, she’s got a lot to offer! Having said that, I sometimes feel like she’s taking over the house…!”

Barbie opens in UK cinemas on July 21, 2023.