The evolution of Barbie
A new exhibition in Paris pays tribute to the iconic doll's many incarnations and cultural influence
Ruth Handler, co-founder of the Mattel toy manufacturing company, came up with the idea for Barbie after noticing her daughter playing with fashion paper dolls. She realized girls craved a toy that could embody their fantasies of becoming ambitious young women. Though Handler gave Barbie a backstory (she was born in Wisconsin as Barbara Millicent Roberts), she refrained from giving her an exact age because she wanted the doll to appeal to as many girls as possible.
Over the decades, Barbie has evolved to reflect modern styles and comforts, attitudes and causes, dreams and ambitions. She has taken on more than 150 careers, including astronaut, presidential candidate, and police officer. She has firmly cemented herself as a cultural icon, inspiring both art and commentary. And of course, she's sparked her fair share of controversy, for alleged racism, sexism, and plenty of other -isms, too.
The Musee des Arts Decoratifs — a museum in Paris specializing in design, fashion, toy, and advertising collections — is honoring the toy with a massive exhibition called, simply, Barbie. The exhibition features 700 Barbie dolls, accessories, and clothing items, as well as works by contemporary artists, newspaper clippings, photos, and videos that contextualize the toy's many incarnations and influences.
Below, a peek into the exhibition, on view through September 2016.