A man was driving home from work one evening when he suddenly realized that it was his daughter’s birthday and he hadn’t yet bought her a gift. So, the man rushed off to the nearest toy store and asked the sales clerk, “How much is that Barbie doll in the window?” The sales clerk replied in a condescending tone, “Which Barbie? We have Barbie Goes to the Gym for $19.95, Barbie Goes to the Ball for $19.95, Barbie Goes Shopping for $19.95, Barbie Goes to the Beach for $19.95, Barbie Goes Night-Clubbing for $19.95, and Divorced Barbie for $265.00.” The overwhelmed man asked, “Why is the Divorced Barbie $265.00 and all the others are only $19.95?” “That’s obvious!” said the sales clerk. “Divorce Barbie comes with Ken’s house, Ken’s car, Ken’s boat, and Ken’s furniture!”
Her name was Ruth Handler, a Jewish business woman and inventor from Denver, Colorado. One particular day she noticed her daughter, Barbara, playing with cut-out paper dolls; but treating them not as little girls, instead, as young adults. The entrepreneur thought to herself – every plastic doll on the market is an infant baby, what about a plastic one that is more of a young adult. So she set up a toy company with her husband, Eric “Matt” Handler and called it Mattel. They secured a patent on the doll design and introduced “Barbie” (named after their daughter) at the New York Toy Fair in March of 1959. In the fifty-seven years since, 1,000,000,000 (one billion) Barbies have been sold worldwide at the rate of three purchased every second. Two years later, Ken (named after their son, Kenneth) was introduced.
However, the best-selling-ever doll has not been without her critics. The tall, thin, busty figure is said to be found in only 1 out of every 100,000 women (with studies connecting Barbie with bulimia and anorexia in young girls as they try to match her stick-like frame). And then there is the blonde causasian look in an increasingly multi-cultural, multi-coloured society. The result has been that Mattel has seen Barbie sales drop by 25% over the past five years. So now, in 2016, a whole new range of Barbie dolls are about to be introduced. Developed in great secrecy over the past two years at Mattel’s headquarters (it was code-named Project Dawn as in the dawn of a new day), three additional shapes will soon be available (tall and thin, short and wide, average and curvy) all in seven different skin tones, fourteen different facial structures, twenty-two different eye colours, and twenty-seven different hair styles.
There are no plans in the works to change Ken and that’s just fine with men for three reasons: one (we didn’t care), two (we don’t care) and three (we won’t care).
BARBIE DOLLS & BIG DOLLARS
Mattel says there are well over 100,000 avid female Barbie collectors. The average women is age forty and spends $1,000 a year on the dolls plus various accessories. And it can pay off. In 2014, a Barbie doll purchased for $3.00 in 1959 and in mint condition in its original carton, was sold in auction at Christies in London, England, for $27,500. The doll was part of a private collection of 4,000 Barbie dolls of a Dutch mother and daughter residing in Holland.