A Barbie from 1959 and another from 2023.
© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved
A Look Back At How Barbie Has Changed Since Her Debut In 1959

“We can do anything, right Barbie?”

After years of anticipation, the Barbie movie is finally coming the theaters July 21 and fans the world over cannot wait. Because, really, we’ve been dreaming of this moment — a theatrical release of a live-action Barbie movie — since we were little. Our favorite doll brought to life in a parade of fashion, empowerment, and lots and lots of pink. But the Barbie of many of our childhoods is, in some ways, not the doll we grew up with. Physically, Barbie has changed over time. Inside? She’s always been Barbie.

Barbie, like the fashions she holds so dear, has always been on trend, a reflection of girls’ aspirations and ambitions, from the clothes she wears to her many jobs to her palatial dream homes. And, certainly, all of that can change or expand. So we thought it would be fun to take a look at some highlights of the changes Barbie has been through since her debut in 1959. Just Barbie. We’re not going to really talk about all her many friends and steadfast boyfriend, Ken. (An article for another time, perhaps!)

While not a comprehensive list of changes (we’d be here all day) it nevertheless gives us a pretty good idea about how Barbie has changed with the times and, often, has been way, way ahead of them.

1959: The OG Teen Fashion Model

The OG.Yvonne Hemsey/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Two days before Hawaii became a state, Barbie, the brainchild of businesswoman Ruth Handler debuted at the New York Toy Fair. Named Barbara Millicent Roberts (in honor of Handler’s daughter, also Barbara), the “teen fashion model” was available as either a blonde or a brunette and sold for $3 (the equivalent of about $32 today). Though the basic look of the iconic doll is recognizable, it would be a while before our girl would settle on her trademark features. For the first decade and change, Barbie’s hair and facial features would shape-shift — sometimes she’d look like Jackie Kennedy, sometimes she was more like Ginger from Gilligan’s Island.

1960s: Experimenting With Her Look

Barbie experimented with her coif. © 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved

For the first decade and change, Barbie’s hair and facial features would shape-shift — sometimes she’d look like Jackie Kennedy (above) sometimes she was more like Ginger from Gilligan’s Island (below). Certainly, she’s clearly still Barbie, but she’s finding herself.

She’s finding herself in this period...© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved

(Whomst among us hasn’t gone back and forth on bangs when finding ourselves...?)

1965: To Infinity & Barbie-yond

In addition to the USA and USSR, Barbie was also in the Space Race.© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved

Remember watching Mad Men and realizing how unrepentantly sexist everything was in the ‘60s? To Barbie’s great credit, our girl was an ambitious go-getter from the jump. Between 1959 to 1965 she was a model, a fashion editor, a ballerina, a fashion designer, a flight attendant, a singer, a registered nurse, a tennis player, a “college graduate” (not a career in and of itself, but impressive nonetheless), a “career girl,” a student teacher, and finally an astronaut. And she didn’t stop when she shot for — and presumably reached — the moon. Miss/Dr./Professor/Captain Roberts would go on to have more than 150 different jobs over the years —from athlete to naval officer to surgeon.

1971: Malibu Barbie Finds The Sweet Spot

Turns out she’s 100% that doll...Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

There’s a reason we all know the name “Malibu Barbie.” This, one could argue, is the first Barbie doll that whose basic design has carried through to present day.

1980: The Debut Of Racially Diverse Barbies

NGL: we want this outfit.© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved

While Barbie’s friend, Christie, debuted in 1968 to the joy of little Black girls everywhere, we all know “Some of my best friends are Black” just... doesn’t really cut it. Ever. For anyone. Not even Barbie. Fortunately, in 1980, Mattel released the first ever Black and Hispanic dolls who weren’t just a friend of Barbie’s but Barbies themselves.

Never before had Hispanic children had a Barbie who looked like them.© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved

1985: She Can Have It All

Day to Night Barbie debuted in 1985, along with a campaign that has continued in some way to modern day: We Girls Can Do Anything, which encouraged girls to believe in their dreams. The commercial featured a song that included the lyrics “We girls can do anything, right Barbie?” (which you can hear in the ad above) and “Anything is possible as long as I try.”

This doll’s 2-in-1 outfit embraced the idea of “having it all.” Her business attire was perfect for a busy day at the office, but flip it around and she was ready for a night on the town with Ken. An icon. No wonder Margot Robbie wore a version of this outfit to the South Korean premiere of Barbie.

1987: Barbie in 2-D

GTFO, Jem.YouTube

It took nearly 30 years for Barbie to make her television debut (outside of a commercial, that is) and it began with Barbie and the Rockers: Out of This World, a two-part TV special based on the Barbie and the Rockers line of dolls (which, fun fact: came with a cassette single of a song made specifically for the line). It was initially meant to have been the pilot for a Barbie cartoon series but ultimately fell through. (Though it would not prove the end of Barbie onscreen.)

1991: A Species Transformation

Barbie: now with a fish butt.YouTube

As far as I can tell, this is the first time Barbie ever changed species. Other mermaid varieties of the doll would follow (which makes sense: mermaids are rad and also fun to play with in the bathtub or pool), but this one (which came out two years after The Little Mermaid, which was almost certainly not a coincidence) was the first.

1992: Barbie Sports A New Do & It’s Her Most Popular Yet

An instant classic.© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved

Ask any Elder Millennial who their favorite Barbie was and there’s a very good chance they’ll bring up Totally Hair Barbie, the best-selling Barbie of all time, with over 10 million sold between 1992 and 1995. Sure, her hair had changed a bit to assimilate to contemporary sensibilities over the years — but never had it been quite this long. Did this ankle-length hair tangle within minutes? Usually. But that’s hardly the point of her long, luxurious locks.

2001: Barbie’s First Feature

Our girl went CGIYouTube

Barbie’s first ever feature-length movie was Barbie in The Nutcracker, a computer animated film based on the classic ballet. This would launch a franchise Barbie and the Rockers never could have dreamed of, culminating in 42 movies (and counting!) from 2001 to 2023.

2015: Barbie Breaks The Internet

Barbie’s vlog is perfection.YouTube

Neither Barbie nor the Barbie brand are the type to sit on the sidelines and let new media and trends pass them by, and so B took to the internet. Not to dismiss Barbie’s Instagram account, @barbiestyle, but where Barbie’s online presence truly shines is her vlog on YouTube, where she chats, educates, and broaches even difficult subjects, like when she and Nikki talked about racism and microaggressions in 2020 in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the country

2016: A Barbie For Everyone To Feel Seen

A Barbie for everybody.© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved

In 2016, Barbie underwent one of her most extensive makeovers yet... actually, a whole lot of makeovers. The Fashionista line changed Barbies classic physique, introducing curvier, taller, and smaller dolls in a wider variety of skin tones and with a veritable rainbow of hair colors and textures.

In 2019, the Fashionista line even introduced a Barbie (not a friend of Barbie, but a Barbie) who came with a wheelchair and a ramp, complete with fully articulated joints so she could be seated comfortably. She was followed in 2023 by a Barbie with Down Syndrome.

Barbies with assorted disabilities and differences had been added to the Fashionista line.© 2022 Mattel All Rights Reserved


Finally on the big screenWarner Brothers Entertainment

Finally, our girl is coming to the Big Screen. But can there ever be a screen big enough for our favorite fashion doll? I guess we’ll soon see...