30 Fascinating Facts About Barbie

What is one of your earliest memories? Chances are Barbie was involved. Whether you were braiding her hair, decorating her Dreamhouse, or turning your bathtub into her pool party, Barbie was probably a part of your life for quite some time.

Full name Barbara Millicent Roberts and hailing from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin, Barbie has been around for over 50 years with her official birthday on March 9, 1959, when she made her debut in New York City at the American International Toy Fair. She's an important piece of cultural history and an iconic nostalgic figure for many people. Perhaps because she has been around for so long, Barbie has a few skeletons in her closet. From being based on an adult's gag gift to affecting girls' self-esteem, there is a lot more to Barbie than meets the eye.

1. She was inspired by paper dolls

Like paper dolls, Barbie comes with lots of tiny accessories and has a completely unrealistic body type. When Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, noticed her daughter ignoring her baby dolls and instead choosing to play with paper dolls, it got her thinking. She realized that little girls had the desire to play with adult dolls so she set out to create one.

While Handler may not have talked about it much, the inspiration for Barbie came from more than just a few paper dolls. Barbie has a slightly creepy past.

2. She wasn't meant for kids

Want to hear something disturbing? The original doll that inspired Barbie was not meant for children at all. She was actually used as a gag gift at bachelor parties. The Bild-Lilli dolls were released in Germany in 1952 and were actually based on an adult comic strip. Lilli was a rather saucy single lady and seemed to be pretty popular with the gentlemen.

"Men got Lilli dolls as gag gifts at bachelor parties, put them on their car dashboard, dangled them from the rearview mirror, or gave them to girlfriends as a suggestive keepsake," said Robin Gerber, author of "Barbie and Ruth" (via Time).

Lilli was definitely much more sexualized than Barbie. In one comic strip, Lilli is wearing a bikini while a police officer tells her two-piece swimsuits are illegal, to which Lilli asks, "Oh, and in your opinion, which part should I take off?" Despite their different personalities, you can't deny the physical resemblance between Lilli and Barbie. While Ruth Handler's family was vacationing in Switzerland in 1956, Ruth and her daughter brought three of the Lilli dolls home with them.

3. She was in some of the first commercials for kids

For younger generations, it's hard to remember a time when there were no commercials for kids. This was actually a revolutionary idea in the '50s. It seems that parents have Barbie to thank for our kids' incessant whining about the latest toy they just need that they only discovered in a commercial five minutes ago.

Mattel, the company that created Barbie, was the first to sponsor the "Mickey Mouse Club." When Barbie joined those ranks, she quickly became popular and it wasn't long before she needed some friends. Enter Ken, Midge, and Skipper who all joined her in the early 1960s.

4. She chose not to have children

Barbie has had just about every job under the sun. This woman went from being an astronaut to a doctor to the president of the United States. Is it any wonder that she never decided to have children?

Mattel purposely never gave Barbie children, so that girls could be creative and make her anything they wanted. There are Barbie dolls that come with babies, but we're not entirely sure who the parents are. Barbie has younger sisters, but she and Ken never tied the knot nor had babies.

5. Barbie has held many, many jobs over the years

As fans of Barbie may know, the doll has had quite a few careers — over 200 to be exact. Her first job was as a fashion designer in 1960. Then, she was a lounge singer and a flight attendant in 1961. Over the next few years, Mattel released a few miscellaneous office-themed Barbies. Since then, she has racked up an impressive resume. 

Over the years, she has been an astronaut, a doctor, a paleontologist, a singer, and even an engineer. She has also been an Olympian on more than one occasion, competing as a climber, a gymnast, a skier, and a swimmer to name a few.

In more recent years, Barbie's CV has expanded even further as Mattel has tried to encourage girls to explore jobs in what are traditionally considered masculine fields. In 2023, Mattel finally launched a line of Barbies that celebrated careers in STEM.

6. She doesn't get her period

Barbie's body type has been scrutinized over the years so much so that researchers in Helsinki, Finland, began studying Barbie's health by comparing her to real women. According to the Finnish researchers, if Barbie were a real person, she would not menstruate because her body fat percentage would not be high enough (via the BBC). "If Barbie were life size she would lack the 17 to 22% body fat required for a woman to menstruate," the outlet reported. 

7. Her figure made waves

Speaking of Barbie's figure, mothers in the 1950s weren't thrilled with it, and it wasn't because she was thin. When Barbie came along, she looked nothing like the sweet and innocent baby dolls that girls were already playing with. Parents didn't love that Barbie looked so "mature." However, Ruth Handler was always unapologetic about this.

”Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future,” Handler said (via The New York Times). ”If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.”

Handler wanted Barbie to be older than a child so that girls could live out their futures through her. According to The New York Times, Handler wrote in her autobiography: ”My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

8. She has some big fans

When it comes to dolls, there are always going to be some fanatic collectors out there. Even though Barbie herself (unlike Bild-Lilli) was marketed to children from the start, there are plenty of collector's edition dolls, as well as adults who just love her.

One of those adults, Bettina Dorfmann, actually owns over 15,000 Barbie dolls and set the Guinness World Record in 2011. "It drives my husband mad when I bring a new doll home," she told Metro.

Dorfmann is so passionate about the dolls that she actually runs a doll hospital out of her home, so it's tough to say just how many dolls are in her home at any given time. The good news is, if you still haven't found your passion in life, don't worry about it. At least it isn't maintaining a home with over 15,000 Barbie dolls in it.

9. She and Ken have broken up before

On February 13, 2011, Barbie and Ken announced on Facebook that they decided to try things again and get back together, but many of us never knew they broke up in the first place. The couple actually broke up in 2004, so this was quite the separation. 

Facebook comments included supportive encouragement like: "Finally! It took you long enough, girl! So happy! Barbie and Ken Forever" and "awww congrats barbie & ken!..u guys r awesome!". However, not everyone was celebrating.

One Facebook user was worried that Barbie may be wasting her time: "good luck! I hope it works out this time but really...its time for him to put a ring on it, don't you think?" she asked. Another user wasn't into the reunion either: "Seriously, Barbie — he lacks anatomically-correct male goods... keep it solo girlfriend," she advised. This might be just a coincidence, but Mattel did release a new Ken doll less than a month after this convenient reunion.

10. She has her own restaurant

You know those moments when you just love Barbie so much, you want to eat with her? Now all you have to do is travel to Taiwan to eat at the Barbie-themed restaurant. "We picked Taiwan because theme restaurants are very popular and successful here. We are very confident that the Barbie Cafe can promote our brand image," Mattel manager Iggy Yip said (via Daily News).

The cafe is a place for adults and children alike. "My child and I both love Barbie and this lovely and cute place is like a dream come true for us," Taipei resident Jessica Ho told the Daily News. "I will take her here to celebrate her next birthday."

11. She may be spying on you

In 2015, Mattel launched Hello Barbie which contained a microphone and Wi-Fi connection so that when children talked to her, the doll could respond. The problem was that the recorded children's voices were going to be saved on cloud servers. Creepy? For sure. Illegal? Maybe. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) wasted no time taking this on. "Kids using 'Hello Barbie' aren't only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial," CCFC's Executive Director Dr. Susan Linn said in a statement (via Fairplay). "It's creepy — and creates a host of dangers for children and families."

Georgetown Law Professor Angela Campbell had major concerns as well. "If I had a young child, I would be very concerned that my child's intimate conversations with her doll were being recorded and analyzed," she said. "In Mattel's demo, Barbie asks many questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, her interests, and her family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children."

"Hello Barbie" also prompted concerns about kids' social interaction and development. "'Hello Barbie' not only discourages the kind of creative play essential for learning and development, it ensures that Mattel — not the child — is driving the play," warned Dr. Linn.

12. She comes in different body types

In 2015, Barbie finally moved past her limited proportions and released a new line of dolls ranging in body shapes and sizes. The Fashionistas line contains three body types: small, curvy, and petite. They also come in a variety of skin tones, hair colors, and wait for it ... flat feet.

"Barbie has always given girls choices — from her 180 careers, to inspirational roles, to her countless fashions and accessories," Senior Vice President and Global General Manager Barbie Evelyn Mazzocco shared (via Barbie). "We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand — these new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them — the variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them." 

13. She's bad at math

In 1992, Mattel was in trouble for a different talking Barbie, not because she could record children's voices, but because of what she said to them. Teen Talk Barbie said four random phrases chosen from a list of 270. That is until women's rights groups got involved. One of the phrases said, "Math class is tough." Groups like the American Association of University Women were very concerned about the kind of message this would send to young girls. Mattel ended up removing that phrase.

Mattel president Jill E. Barad wrote a letter to the association to apologize. "In hindsight, the phrase 'math class is tough,' while correct for many students both male and female, should not have been included," Barad said (via The New York Times). "We didn't fully consider the potentially negative implications of this phrase, nor were we aware of the findings of your organization's report."

14. She now blurs gender lines

Barbie has never held back when it comes to her look. Designer cars, formal gowns, and stilettos are just part of a normal day for her. Perhaps that is why she jumped at the chance to collaborate with an unlikely pair. The Blonds are glamorous and androgynous fashion designers who have always loved Barbie. Now it's safe to say that Barbie loves them back since Mattel released a Barbie inspired by the designers.

"One of the great things about Barbie is that she continues to push the envelope," said Mattel Vice President Cathy Cline (via The New York Times). "Barbie doesn't worry about what other people think."

The Blonds are all about glamour, so Barbie was a perfect fit. "Fashion is a form of self-expression and we believe that everyone should feel glamorous every day," Phillipe Blond said.

15. Her designer defends her body type

Barbie has long been criticized for her one-size body type. She now comes in a few new sizes, but the majority of the dolls still look like the traditional model and this doesn't seem to be changing any time soon. Kim Culmone, Vice President of Design for Barbie, sees nothing wrong with her figure. "Barbie's body was never designed to be realistic. She was designed for girls to easily dress and undress," Culmone said to Co. Design (via The Verge). "And she's had many bodies over the years, ones that are poseable, ones that are cut for princess cuts, ones that are more realistic."

Culmone revealed that while Barbie's figure is " a continual evolution," there is also a historical component to keep in mind. "This is a 55-year-old brand where moms are handing clothes down to their daughters, and so keeping the integrity of that is really important," Culmone said.

Culmone also isn't buying the fact that Barbie affects young girls and their body images. "Girls view the world completely differently than grown-ups do. They don't come at it with the same angles and baggage and all that stuff that we do," explained Culmone. "Clearly, the influences for girls on those types of issues, whether it's body image or anything else, it's proven, it's peers, moms, parents, it's their social circles."

16. She can make young girls feel bad about themselves

Despite Kim Culmone's best attempts at defending the ultra-skinny doll, the research disagrees.  From a very young age, girls were pressured to feel thin. According to a 2006 study, playing with an unattainably thin doll does affect how girls see themselves. In this study, girls were given Barbie dolls to play with, then asked questions about their self-esteem. Their self-esteem levels were significantly lower. However, when the girls played with average or plus-size dolls, there was no effect on their self-esteem.

17. Barbie's Dreamhouse has changed a lot over the years

It's hard to think of a more iconic dollhouse than the Barbie Dreamhouse. Barbie's house was launched in 1962, just three years after the birth of Barbie. The first Barbie home was a simple fold-out room with cardboard furniture and drawn-on decorations. At the time, Barbie was often considered a college student. "I think it's a coded dorm room," said Felix Burrichter, editor of the book "Barbie Dreamhouse: An Architectural Survey" (via The New York Times).

Since then, Dreamhouse has been through several other iterations. There was the New York-style townhouse complete with an elevator, chandeliers, and swimming pool; there was the charming rustic cabin of the late '70s; the Elle Woods-esque pink mansion of the '90s; the purple home of the 2000s; and most recently, the ultra-modern "content house" of 2021 complete with fuchsia decor, a ceiling swing, and a slide from the second floor. Who knows, maybe Barbie's next home will be in the metaverse!

18. Greta Gerwig's Barbie movie is going to make 2023 the year of Barbie

Barbie is finally getting the live-action treatment with a full-length feature film directed by Greta Gerwig. The movie, due to come out in July 2023, has a massive cast that includes Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Issa Rae, Dua Lipa, Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell, Michael Cera, Emma Mackey, and more. Numerous actors will be playing Barbie and Ken, while others will play other Mattel characters like Allan, Ken's friend and Midge, the controversial discontinued pregnant Barbie. While we don't know much about the plot yet, if the "Barbie" trailer is anything to go by, it will be a wacky, colorful, joyous ride into all things Barbieland, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek nods to the doll's history.

"Barbie" the movie is already making waves in the culture. In fact, as early as 2022 when the first set of images hit the internet, people began embracing Barbiecore style and the teaser trailer quickly went viral on Twitter. It's safe to say that this movie will make a huge splash this year.

19. Barbie has starred in dozens of hugely popular animated movies

Before the all-star Greta Gerwig movie about Barbie, there were dozens of animated movies that featured the iconic doll. The series of movies began in 2001 with "Barbie in the Nutcracker," a movie that saw Barbie help her sister, Kelly, with her upcoming performance of "The Nutcracker" ballet. Throughout the 2000s, 39 more movies followed. Most of them saw Barbie appear in a new version of a classic fairy tale or ballet. There was "Barbie as Rapunzel," "Barbie of Swan Lake," "Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper," and "Barbie: Princess Adventure." Over the years, the Barbie animations became digital. The latest film came in 2022 with "Barbie: Mermaid Power." 

While these movies aren't quite as high-profile as Gerwig's interpretation, they hold a special place in many fans' hearts. "The early Barbie films shaped my girlhood beginning with Barbie as 'The Princess and the Pauper,'" wrote one fan for the Queen's Journal. "Those films possess the Barbie I care about the most: the nostalgic Barbie of fairytales," wrote another for Daily Trojan. Clearly, for many of us, the animated films are peak Barbie nostalgia.

20. Kids can play with Barbie in the digital world now, too

Barbie expanded into the digital world in 1984 when Mattel released its first Barbie video game. According to EvolutionAccess, the first game was pretty rudimentary and was available on Commodore 64 — a computer from the 1980s. In the '90s, Barbie games were available on DOS, NES, and PC. Dozens of other games were released over the years. One of the most popular games — which sold over 500,000 copies — was the 1996 "Barbie Fashion Designer" where players could dress up a digital Barbie. According to Joyce Slaton from GameSpot, who spoke to Harper's Bazaar about the game's success, "Mattel's successful innovation [was] placing 'Barbie Fashion Designer' on toy aisles rather than in the boy-dominated software section in toy stores."

More recently, Mattel has released PlayStation Barbie games, Wii Barbie games, and Nintendo Barbie games, where players can solve puzzles, give Barbie a makeover, and follow Barbie stories. Researchers have even noted that the Barbie games were at the helm of transforming our gendered perceptions of video games (via MIT Press Direct).

21. Barbie has a big family

While Mattel began with just one doll — Barbie — over the years, they've added plenty of other dolls to her family tree. Barbie has three sisters, Skipper, Stacie, and Chelsea, who was previously known as Kelly before being renamed in 2011. Skipper, Barbie's younger sister, has been around since 1964 and is known for her brunette hair with a purple streak and her passion for all things tech. Stacie is another younger sister who is a little more sporty than her sisters and is blonde with green eyes. Chelsea/ Kelly is the youngest at 7 years old and is known for being sweet, fun-loving, and a fan of pranks. The sisters often appear in Barbie's movies, video games, and online vlogs.

Barbie also had a brother, Todd, who was around from 1965 until he was discontinued in the '90s. Todd also had a twin sister called Tutti.

22. Andy Warhol once painted Barbie

Andy Warhol was a painter who became famous for painting pop culture icons — think Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, and Liz Taylor. It only makes sense that Warhol would add such an iconic figure as Barbie to the list. However, it turns out, the real story behind the painting is a little more complicated. Apparently, the portrait was actually an ode to a jewelry designer called BillyBoy* who was Warhol's muse. As the story goes, Warhol painted Barbie as BillyBoy* wasn't interested in being painted.

"For many, many, many years he wanted to do a painting of me. And for some reason I didn't appreciate that idea," BillyBoy* told the BBC. "I felt it was futile. It would really get on my nerves that he just insisted and insisted on doing this painting, and sometimes we would argue about it."

BillyBoy* suggested that he paint Barbie instead. As the designer said: "He took it literally. He took a Barbie that I had given him and turned it into a portrait and called it 'Portrait of BillyBoy*.'" 

23. Mattel released Role Model Barbies and Inspiring Women Barbies

Over the years, Mattel has expanded its Barbie collection to include dolls of real-life women from history and contemporary women who can inspire young girls.

As the Mattel website explains, the Role Model dolls are designed to teach young girls about famous women who are working today and use their stories as inspiration. "Barbie is committed to shining a light on empowering role models in an effort to inspire more girls," the website reads. "As a part of the Dream Gap Project, we're introducing girls to remarkable women's stories to show them you can be anything."

Barbie also launched an Inspiring Woman series, which features dolls inspired by real-life women from history like pilot Bessie Coleman, tennis player Billie Jean King, journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, and poet Maya Angelou. When primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall was added to the collection, she told CNN how important her Barbie could be to young kids. "The original Barbie dolls were all girly girly frilly frilly and I thought, you know, girls need to play with something that's, you know, real life ... maybe it will get them out into nature more," Dr. Goodall said. We couldn't have put it better ourselves.

24. Aqua's song Barbie Girl has become pop culture legend

In 1997, pop band Aqua released the now infamous song "Barbie Girl." We all know the cult-classic lines like "Come on Barbie, let's go party" and "Life in plastic, it's fantastic." The song's cultural impact was immense. According to UDiscover Music, the song sold 33 million albums and garnered more than a billion YouTube views.

As Søren Rasted, who worked on the song, told Rolling Stone on the song's 25th anniversary, the song was originally inspired by an art exhibition that featured a ton of Barbie dolls. "They'd taken a bunch of Barbie dolls and made a planet out of them," Rasted said. "It looked like a big, round ball. It made me think of, 'Life in plastic, it's fantastic.'" René Dif, who was also part of the group, added that the aim was to give people a positive, empowering message. "The message is that it's OK to be the person you are and look the way you look and be confident in that," Dif said. "You don't necessarily have to have plastic surgeries to be a better person."

The song was hugely popular and it eventually led to a huge legal case in which Mattel attempted to sue the group for the song, but they ultimately failed.

25. Totally Hair Barbie was a bestseller

While it may come as a surprise, the most popular Barbie of all time was actually the 1992 Totally Hair Barbie. The Totally Hair Barbie featured a classic Barbie doll with Rapunzel-length hair. It also came with real hair gel so that owners of the doll could style the hair themselves. According to Business Week, the doll was sold over 10 million times. 

In 2017, for the 25th anniversary of the Totally Hair Barbie, Mattel even released an anniversary doll with the same long crimped hair and hair accessories.

The doll was originally designed by Carol Spencer, and as the designer later told Mattel, she had been working with hair-focused dolls for years before Totally Hair Barbie. "It was a long process because I'd been working in Asia, and when I returned, there were five designers at Mattel trying to figure out new ways to incorporate hair play," Spencer said. "None of the ideas worked, so it was down to the wire. We had very little time before the doll had to go into production. That's when I realized the best way to go forward was to dress the doll with her hair." Luckily, it worked and the rest is history.

26. There was some controversy surrounding Barbie's friend Midge

Greta Gerwig's upcoming "Barbie" movie starring Margot Robbie promises to feature one Barbie character who was discontinued years ago — Midge. Midge was first introduced in 1963 as Barbie's bestie. Apparently, with her red hair and bangs, she was more "mature" than Barbie. Midge then disappeared from 1965 until 1988, when Mattel released a new Midge doll. Eventually, in 2002, Mattel released a pregnant Midge doll. The doll featured a removable baby bump — with a tiny newborn doll, Nikki, inside.

The doll proved to be quite controversial, as some parents were concerned that the doll would encourage teen pregnancy. The doll was discontinued and a new post-pregnancy doll was introduced. Mattel is still selling Midge dolls today — but not the controversial pregnant one. However, it looks like Gerwig will be featuring the infamous pregnant doll in her movie — and we can't wait to see how she does it.

27. Barbie's had a lot of pets

Mattel has expanded the Barbie universe a lot throughout the years — it's even given Barbie and her family members their own pets, with a number of animal dolls. In fact, according to the official Barbie Instagram page, Barbie has had more than 40 pets since she was first launched in the '60s — "including cats and dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra," as the caption read.

Today, numerous Barbie sets come with animals like dogs, horses, cats, and even unicorns, koalas, and pandas. Mattel's new line, Barbie Extra, features a number of over-the-top Barbies with matching pets. "When it comes to fashion, Barbie Extra has a 'more is more' attitude," Kelly Philip, Mattel's UK marketing director told Toy World. "Even their pets are extra."

Clearly, Barbie is a huge animal lover — we can only hope Mattel continues adding more fun animals to their collection.

28. Despite her newfound popularity, her sales are down

While it may seem like Barbie is doing better than ever, what with the exciting new doll collections and the upcoming live-action movie, it turns out, Mattel isn't exactly selling as many dolls as they need to. In fact, they are expected to underperform in 2023. In early 2023, Reuters reported that the company's shares had gone down by around 12%. The reason? Rising inflation. 

"As we enter 2023 we expect it to be a challenging environment for consumers, not just in toys, but in general, so there could be volatility," said Mattel's Chief Executive Officer Ynon Kreiz. Added Linda Bolton Weiser, an analyst at D.A. Davidson: "In a year with Disney Princess, Monster High come-back, and a Barbie movie, it's disappointing to see the outlook for flattish sales and an EBITDA decline in 2023." Apparently, we just aren't buying enough toys anymore!

29. She has a massive YouTube channel

Can't get enough Barbie? Well, you're in luck. The doll has gone digital and now has a thriving YouTube channel of her own, with over 11 million subscribers and two thousand videos as of 2023.

On the Barbie YouTube channel, fans can watch live animated Barbie videos, see exclusive songs, and get the latest updates. The channel also makes short videos. Barbie also has a vlog where she speaks directly to the camera about her life. You'll find videos of Barbie chatting about her feelings, doing her makeup, and showing off her morning routine. Sometimes, she also takes part in YouTube challenges like the "What's in the Box Challenge" and the "Best Friend Tag." 

As Mattel SVP Lisa McKnight said during the NewFronts West event in 2019, Mattel launched its Barbie YouTube channel to make Barbie more accessible to young audiences in the digital era. "We've had great success with a series on YouTube on the Barbie channel called 'Barbie Vlogger,' and she vlogs weekly about the crazy things that are happening in her life with her friends and different situations," McKnight said (via TubeFilter). "But we've also infused some of the episodes with teachable moments. One of the episodes is called 'Sorry Reflex,' and it was Barbie commenting on the fact that girls and women tend to overuse the words 'I'm sorry.'" Sounds like the YouTube channel is both fun and educational.

30. She has her own convention

If you're a big Barbie fan and you are looking to connect with other Barbie fans, there's actually an annual Barbie convention where people can gather to find out more about Barbie, take part in fashion shows, play Barbie-related games, and purchase collector's items. By the sounds of things, these conventions are extremely popular. In 2015, for instance, over 1,000 fans reportedly attended the Washington D.C. convention. As for the 2023 Barbie convention, it sold out months before the convention's start date. 

As one fan explained on Reddit, the convention comes with a lot of perks. "You get a goodie baggie when you check in," the fan wrote. "This year [2022] there was a reusable bag, some pens, and a wine glass. Then there is of course, the Convention Doll you get on the last day during dinner. Mattel also gives out a gift, this year it was an outfit."