Skip to main content

In 1959, American businesswoman Ruth Handler created Barbie, named after her young daughter Barbara, and debuted the doll at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Handler got the inspiration while on a family vacation in Germany, after she came upon a doll called Bild Lilli—which was marketed for adults but often purchased by kids. The first Barbie came with a black and white striped bathing suit and there were brunette and blonde versions available. Her outfit was designed by Mattel's Charlotte Johnson and in their first year of production, 350,000 were sold.

Over the years Barbie has changed a lot, from her many careers to her relationship status to her body. Barbie is known for being a career woman and in the 60 years she's been around, Barbie has been a pilot, a doctor, a teacher, a United States Marine Corp Sergeant, a Presidential candidate, an astronaut and even a chicken farmer. In 1961, her boyfriend Ken was introduced and they've been in an on again, off again relationship for nearly 50 years. As for Barbie's body, it's been a controversial topic since the doll first hit shelves. When Barbie first debuted, she was estimated as having a 36 inch chest, 18 inch waist and 33 inch hips. In 1965's "Slumber Party" Barbie was given two questionable accessories, first being a pink scale permanently set to 110lbs and a book titled "How to Lose Weight." As criticisms of the doll grew, Mattel worked to make her appearance more realistic. In 1997, Barbie's body was redesigned to give her a wider waist and in 2016, curvy, petite and tall versions of the doll were introduced.

Barbie has also become more racially inclusive over the years and adapted to appropriately resemble people of color. Christie, the first African-American Barbie, debuted in 1968, however, despite her skin tone the doll still had largely Caucasian features. In 1990, Mattel did a focus group and redesigned the African-American Barbie to have different facial features, skin colors, names and hair textures. However, in 1997, they did take a few steps back when they partnered with Nabisco and made the infamous Oreo Barbie, which many criticized as trivializing a common racial slur. The doll was pulled off shelves, but is still highly sought after by collectors.

As society has come around to tattoos, so has Barbie. Back into 2003, Mattel did their first partnership with Hard Rock Cafe and since then, they've released three dolls that sport visible ink. In 2009, Mattel released "Totally Stylin' Tattoos" Barbie, which came with a number of temporary tattoos that could be adhered to the doll. Then in 2011, Mattel collaborated with Japanese lifestyle brand Tokidoki to release a limited edition doll that had short pink hair and several visible tattoos—even a neck tattoo! In 2015, Mattel joined forces with the brand once more, releasing two dolls that had colorful sleeves and chest pieces. Will Mattel make Barbie a tattoo artist next? It wouldn't surprise us!

In honor of National Barbie Day, which falls on March 9th, we're celebrating with not one, but two photo series. First, we're sharing 10 of our favorite blonde, beautiful and tattooed models from around the world. Then we're also showcasing 10 of our favorite tattoos inspired by Barbie.

Barbie Babes

Plastic Fantastic Tattoos