The icon that put the "plastic" in plastic surgery, Barbie remains a well-known and polarizing cultural and social phenomenon. Introduced in the pre-dawn of the feminist movement, generations of women have grown up with her wardrobes, careers, friends, boyfriends, pets, playhouses, and flashy pink sports cars. But a lot has changed in 50 years, and Mattel, which introduced Barbie five decades and a billion units ago, is rolling out a commemorative doll and promoting "All Things Barbie" to perk up sagging sales.
Barbie's history, however, has reflected the evolving role of women. For example:
However, unlike real women, Barbie hasn't changed physically and it's been noted that her measurements -- at 36-18-38 -- if rendered in the flesh, would make it impossible for her to stand.
She's lost market share over the past decade, with domestic sales falling as much as 12% in recent years. And no matter what memories she evokes for moms, her target audience has grown younger, more sophisticated, and increasingly disinterested in the fantasy Barbie has to offer. What's worse, interactive dolls, toys, and video games have moved into the dream-house neighborhood.
All the categories we study change over time, and this is no exception. What was once considered edgy now seems relatively tame, especially when compared to real-life Barbies like Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. More recently, she's been replaced by Bratz dolls with pouty lips and by Hannah Montana fashion-dolls.
Still and all, it's a real cultural and marketing event. Barbie, the iconic fashion doll with the top-heavy figure and high-heel arches is 50. And some fairytales do continue for girls even when women are long past the point of believing in them.