The thought of having a doll with prominent breasts in the home disturbed some mothers. Barbie's mature body seemed borderline pornographic and potentially damaging to young girls' psyches (an argument that continues to sizzle in today's culture). After all, if the original Barbie were a person, her measurements would be 38-18-34. In order for Mattel to popularize Barbie, the company had to advertise in a strategic way that would allay concerned mothers' fears.
Over the course of six months, an advertising guru named Ernest Dichter studied the responses of girls and their mothers to Barbie. From his extensive research, Dichter concluded that instead of attempting to mitigate Barbie's mature qualities, Mattel should emphasize them. Since Barbie was well-dressed and attractive, mothers ought to consider her a tool for teaching their daughters about the importance of appearance and femininity. While some women would later take Barbie to task for imparting such lessons, the advertising tactic worked in the 1960s.
Barbie's on-and-off boyfriend Ken hit stores a few years later in 1961. Ironically, Ken is named for Ruth Handler's son, which makes the real-life "Barbie" and "Ken" siblings. (Maybe that's why the two have never married or had a baby.)
The doll underwent a significant makeover in 1971 with the release of Malibu Barbie. For the first time, Barbie's eyes looked straight ahead, rather than to the side, like Lilli's. She traded her honey-brown locks for platinum blonde and displayed an open-mouthed smile that she still wears today. Since 1959, Barbie has also moved far beyond the career ambitions of a teen fashion model. She's held down more than 80 jobs, including paleontologist, astronaut, McDonald's cashier and president.
During her pink-hued reign, Mattel estimates that an average of two Barbies was sold every second across the world. Sales have flagged a bit in recent years as girls opt for more electronic and interactive toys. Since the first official Barbie convention in 1980, Barbie collecting has remained a robust niche. Rare and limited edition dolls, such as the Dolls of the World collectibles, can sell for thousands of dollars.
Having weathered the ever-shifting styles and attitudes of girls over decades, Barbie plans for a major comeback on her 50th birthday. Despite the dip in retail sales, Barbie still isn't hurting for cash. With franchise profits for 2008 topping $1.2 billion, Barbie could set up her old pal Lilli for life.