Excerpts from Ruth Handler's Obituary

...In 1959 when she invented Barbie, a busty figure with platinum-blond hair and piercing blue eyes, Mrs. Handler created the country's first mass-marketed adult-looking doll for girls—and an image that would later be attacked by feminists as a symbol of objectification and repression. Critics said the doll gave girls misguided goals, whether for their careers or for their own physical development.

Mrs. Handler, though, seemed unmoved, her husband said. “It really didn’t bother her,” he said. “She thought they were wrong.”

“Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future,” Mrs. Handler said in a 1977 interview with The New York Times. “If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.”

Barbie was conceived as a teenage fashion model, and her first outfits were named for her various activities, according to M. G. Lord, author of “Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll.” Early outfits included “Friday Night Date” and “Sorority Meeting.”

And Barbie kept pace with the times. During Camelot, she sported a Jacqueline Kennedy hairdo. During the civil rights movement, Mattel created Barbie's first black friend, “Colored Francie.”

But not until the 1970's, as the criticism from feminists materialized, did her career choices—and her outfits—begin to change to include a doctor, astronaut and veterinarian, among others.

A chief objection of feminists, including the National Organization for Women, was that Barbie's figure created unrealistic expectations for young girls that could lead to low self–esteem. People often joked that Barbie's measurements were not humanly possible. But in fact it was determined that if the 11 1/2-inch doll were 5-foot-6, her measurements would be 39-21-33. One academic expert calculated that a woman's chances of having Barbie’s figure were less than 1 in 100,000.

In her 1994 autobiography, “Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story,” Mrs. Handler wrote: “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”...

Sarah Kershaw. "Ruth Handler, Whose Barbie Gave Dolls Curves, Dies at 85." The New York Times. April 29, 2002. Accessed September 30, 2013

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Excerpts from Ruth Handler's Obituary." (Viewed on September 23, 2023) <https://jwa.org/media/excerpts-from-ruth-handlers-obituary>.


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