In the first year of production alone, about 350 000 Barbie dolls were sold and since then Mattel has sold over a billion of the dolls. But despite her stratospheric popularity, Barbie has not been a stranger to controversy. In 1961, the makers of Bild Lilli sued Mattel for copying their doll and a battle ensued, which was eventually settled out of court in 1963. To add to Barbie’s woes, many parents were horrified that Barbie had distinctive, rather sizeable, mounds on her chest. In addition, many complained that Barbie conveyed a body image not remotely rooted in reality. Of course, there was also the fact that a vast majority of the world’s population could not relate to a white-skinned, blue-eyed doll and in 1980, Mattel began to diversify and produce Barbies of different ethnicities and cultures with different skin, hair and eye colours.
Despite encountering numerous challenges in her life, including declining sales since 2014, Barbie is still around at the grand old age of 60. She may have started out as a fashion model, but over her life she has also been an astronaut, surgeon, vet, air force pilot, NASCAR driver and engineer, to name but a few. She may be beautiful and have a wardrobe full of clothes and shoes, but she has also shown young girls everywhere that they can be and do whatever they can imagine. Despite all the criticism levelled against her, I’d say Barbie embodies the female never-say-die spirit and proves that whatever a man can do, a woman can do just as well. And just like Barbie, we can even do it in killer heels.