The Shape of Barbie


Mattel has unveiled curvy, petite and tall versions of its iconic fashion doll. The new body types will also be sold in an assortment of skin tones, eye colors, and hairstyles. (New York Times)

Use our resources to learn how Barbie made her debut.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The original Barbie doll will be joined by tall, curvy, and petite cousins this week. Photograph by Mattel
The original Barbie doll will be joined by tall, curvy, and petite cousins this week.
Photograph by Mattel

Discussion Ideas

  • How did Barbie come to dominate the fashion-doll market? Read our super-short article on Barbie’s birth for some help.
    • In a classic business story, Barbie’s inventor, Ruth Handler, smartly filled a “hole in the market.” The marketplace was dolls, and the hole was the absence of a mass-produced adult-model doll that children could dress up in different clothes.
      • Prior to the introduction of Barbie, most dolls were models of infants and toddlers. But Ruth noticed that her daughter, Barbara, enjoyed dressing up dolls and pretending they had adult jobs. Ruth’s husband, a co-founder of the Mattel toy company, had the good business sense to listen to his wife. Mattel bought the German company that made one of the few adult-model fashion dolls (Bild Lilli) and introduced the concept to 1950s America. The rest is history (and an ongoing billion-dollar business venture).


  • Why is Mattel adding more diversity to Barbie’s look?
    • According to the New York Times, Barbie “sales have been declining by double-digits in recent years.” Barbie sales fell 14% (to about $300 million) in the third quarter, according to Mattel’s last earnings report. (The company’s 4th-quarter report, which covers the period between October and December, isn’t available yet, but might show an uptick in sales thanks to the winter holidays.)


  • What are some reasons sales have been so drastically declining for Barbie?


  • The new line of Barbies come in petite, tall, and curvy versions. This is just Mattel’s latest response to the market indicators listed above. How else has the company responded to consumer demand?


  • Has Mattel’s business response resulted in a financial upswing for Barbie?
    • Too early to tell. Barbie is a billion-dollar business that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the introduction of the diverse Fashionista line was profitable for Mattel last year. But it’s far too early to see if the downward sales in fashion dolls is a trend or part of the realities of the new toy market.



New York Times: Barbie, Now in More Shapes

Nat Geo: 1959: Barbie Makes Her Debut

Mattel: Mattel Reports Third Quarter 2015 Financial Results And Declares Quarterly Dividend

(extra credit!) Bloomberg Business: The $500 Million Battle Over Disney’s Princesses

2 thoughts on “The Shape of Barbie

  1. Wow, I remember playing with my cousins and we all had a Barbie doll and a Ken doll and the case they came in. We loved to dress our Barbies up so they could go on dates with Ken.So much fun when life in the 60s was such a simpler time. Barbies come a long way from our day.. She has cars and jeeps cool clothes and many friends. Well Barbie keep on keeping on. May your success exceed till the end of time. Thankyou for being part of our wonderful childhood.

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