Paper plates, smeared with fluorescent frosting, forgotten, party favors Left Behind gift, wrap scattered all over the floor.
The Tell-Tale signs of an absolutely Rockin seventh birthday.
As a kid, I always had a hard time accepting when the party was over, but then I’d remember the table full of birthday presents and that usually consoled me pretty quickly.
My parents would help me go through the gifts and note down who brought what?
Look some art supplies.
Whoo, a book of riddles.
Wow, a children’s chemistry set.
Yeah, yeah, I thought I’ll get to those eventually, because there was one toy in particular, I was itching.
NG to play with first.
I’d reach for that iconic pink box with the see-through front.
She’d look at me with her sparkling eyes and her perma-smile just waiting for me to free her from her little plastic twist ties.
I could tell my parents were sort of internally rolling their eyes, but I didn’t care.
I had the it toy the, it girl, Barbie to this day.
She’s a global Naaman on she sold in 150 countries around the world.
More than 100 dolls are sold every minute.
And in the United States there are currently more Barbies than people As the famous song taught us.
It’s a Barbie world.
We’re just living in it.
From gimlet media.
This is not past it a show about the stories.
We can’t quite leave behind every episode.
We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.
Pullin on 64 years ago.
This week, a tiny woman with a huge impact.
Burst onto the scene on March 9th 1959, Barbie debuted at the international Toy Fair scandalizing.
Parents with her hot bod and taking America’s kids by storm.
And while grown-ups were clutching their pearls, another battle was brewing over the purpose of Barbie and the nature of play.
We’re throwing open the doors to the dream house.
After the break, It’s another sunny day in Los Angeles 1959 and the Swanky neighborhood of beverlywood, a line of men crossed their lawns to Thunderbirds and Coupe DE villes, to head, to work, as they pull out of their driveways, a woman with her hair, and a bouffant, and shoulders in a Blazer slides into a Thunderbird of her own.
This one though is bright pink.
I was in a sea of man there were no hazards, like me, I love my children but I wasn’t suited to taking care of a home.
This fabulous businesswoman is Ruth Handler in a 1994 interview on CBS.
I don’t know what was driving me, but I needed to prove myself from the day, I was born Ruth founded, a toy company.
That’s now known around the world Mattel.
She ran it with her husband, Elliot, and lived in Suburbia.
With her two kids back then, the company was a smaller operation focused on using this new thing called, Mastic to innovate the toy industry, Elliot was the creativity behind the toys, but Ruth was the ambition, she was very short and her husband was very tall.
She was physically small but absolutely formidable.
That’s mg Lord.
Author of the book forever Barbie where she writes about Ruth Handler.
She also, I think probably had used more vulgar words in conversation than your average Housewife in the 1950s.
By the early 1950s Ruth was on a hot streak.
Mattel was making jack-in-the-boxes and toy guitars and competing with Legos and Lincoln Logs, the other trending toys of the day but Ruth was always on the lookout for the next big thing.
She had a revelation one afternoon when she noticed her ten-year-old daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls, these dolls were flat illustrations of women that you could cut out of magazines.
Complete with interchangeable outfits and accessories, Ruth saw Barbara’s obsession with paper dolls.
And she took notice Barbara had actual three-dimensional dolls to play with lots of them.
But all those dolls were alike in one key way, of course like all little babies Betsy wetsy wet.
Sand needs to be changed.
Ask your mommy to get you Betsy wetsy and then you can be a mommy too.
It kind of had to do with the whole social purpose of dolls, at least in the 20th century, they were about teaching women, how to nurture babies.
So they were all baby dolls, baby dolls like Betsy wetsy and Chatty Cathy required care.
And if you didn’t feel like caring for a fake baby, there were a few Alternatives.
Glamour dolls were marketed to little girls to teach them, how to wear makeup with names, like Sissy and Little Miss Revlon.
They came with beauty products and work clothes fit for a garden party.
But with their cherubic little faces, they still looked more like babies than women paper dolls.
On the other hand had curves and modelesque features.
They let kids experiment with adult Fashion on adult bodies and children like Ruth’s daughter.
Loved them Barbara was interested in playing with paper dolls and dressing them and now the different kinds of play.
Not nurturing a baby doll but imagining your adult life by having this figure that you could play out scenarios with.
But paper dolls were flimsy.
They drip easily and making two sheets of paper talk to each other.
Just wasn’t that satisfying for Barbara and her friends which gave Ruth an idea Ruth thought why can’t you do a three-dimensional doll which means a doll with breasts and an adult figure For Ruth, the breasts were kind of the point.
She said so herself and that same CBS interview.
The whole idea was that a little girl could dream dreams of growing up and every grown-up that she saw had breast Ruth kept turning this idea over in her head, but it wasn’t until a few years later that she discovered the doll that would become her Muse.
In the summer of 1956, the handlers were on vacation in Europe.
It was the Family’s last day in Switzerland, Ruth and Barbara were out shopping in Lucerne.
When Ruth, spotted six, nearly identical dolls sitting in a shop window, the dolls weren’t babies.
They were beautiful plastic women Ruth was transfixed but she had discovered was the Lily doll.
Lily was almost exactly what she pictured, when she imagined an adult doll for Mattel.
Just a little more sultry.
Oh, I’m going to use the terminology from the 21st.
Century Lily, is ostensibly a sex worker taking money from Jolly fat cats for sexual favors.
The Lily doll was not meant for children.
She was often sold in tobacco shops.
As a gag gift for men, they display her a bachelor parties or tie her to their cars, rearview mirrors.
But German children, just like those in America were starved for dolls.
That looks like grown-ups.
So Lily ended up as a plaything for both men and kids across Europe.
Lily’s outfits were skimpy and fun little swimsuits and super tight sweaters, but the most striking thing was her body.
She was the physical embodiment of the phrase, vava Voom.
It sounds plotting to say am she had very large breasts but she my God anyway sure Lily looked a little more come hither than Ruth had in mind but boy could she wear an outfit and that was enough for Ruth.
She bought one doll for Barbara and to for herself.
When Ruth returned to the states, she brought Lily to work.
Metallus head of design was heading to Japan to see about manufacturing another toy.
So right before he left Ruth slipped Lily in his bag, with one request, replicate this doll.
This flipped out, the other executive was just, were appalled by the idea.
And Ruth knew exactly why they were appalled.
They didn’t think that the doll with breasts.
It was exactly appropriate, tell that to all the little kids obsessed with stuffing, a pair of balloons under their shirts.
Despite their reservations.
Eventually, the executives agreed to give this new doll ago and after three years and a lot of trial and error.
The doll returned with a softer face and a wardrobe fit for an it girl.
And Ruth named her new creation after her own daughter, Barbara Barbie.
By 1959 Barbie was ready for the mass Market.
Ruth had the Japanese facilities making 20,000 Barbies a week in anticipation of her debut at the international Toy Fair.
The toy fair is an annual Showcase in New York that year. 1600 toy manufacturers descended on the city to present their latest creations and more than 16,000 retail and wholesale buyers swarmed the show looking for new items to add to their stores.
It was a nun.
Seasonably warm March morning.
When Ruth set up, the Mattel display room.
The Usual Suspects were there rockets and toy cars but next to them standing just under a foot, tall was Barbie.
She wore a strapless black and white bathing suit white, miniature sunglasses and heels that mimic the shape of her, oddly arched feet, real Glam stuff but Mattel’s reliable buyers.
The people who would put Barbie In their stores were spooked the second, they saw Barbies Bodacious body, most of the toy buyers in 1959 were men and they saw what the male Executives at Mattel.
Had seen by the end of the Toy Show.
It was clear.
Barbie’s debut was a total flop while some buyers placed modest orders.
Many of Mattel’s usual.
Customers told Ruth, they just couldn’t see a future for the sultry dolls.
All but Ruth was undeterred.
So she set out to test Barbie outside the confines of the mostly male buyers at the fair working with an Austrian psychologist named Ernest dichter.
She set up a focus group of sorts this time with the people who would actually buy Barbie and play with her.
Ruth brought dichter and to see what mothers and daughters, how they reacted to this doll and the clothes.
And he discovered that the reaction of mothers was very - they viewed the doll as a competitor to them, for their husbands.
Yikes mother seemed just as turned off as the male Executives and buyers, they simply didn’t want to buy their daughters a toy with boobs, but Ruth was prepared to fight for her doll.
My buyers predicted that this would tank the company, but that’s where Ruth and Elliott’s.
Real Genius came in Ruth and Elliot had a secret weapon.
They had an ad spot locked in with the Mickey Mouse Club.
The hit Disney variety show and they decided they’d use it to sidestep parents, and Market, directly to the millions of kids tuning in across the country.
Ruth had good reason to believe it would work because she done it before.
Four years earlier Mattel had spent five hundred thousand dollars at the time, the entire worth of the company to buy a one-year ad spot on the Mickey Mouse Club.
They wanted to use it to Market, their latest toy gun, it was a huge gamble.
No toy company had ever sponsored a TV series.
Before they were the first toy company to advertise directly to children on television, selling toys was, you know, a mom-and-pop business with the season.
Focus on Christmas but the moment you have those captive Covetous, little kids out there gaping and Mickey Mouse and the Saturday morning cartoons, you were able to turn toys into a big business.
They’re big risk paid off the toy gun flew off the shelves, and Mattel could barely keep up with demand.
So in 1959, after Barbie flopped at the toy fair, and with moms Ruth gave her the Mickey Mouse Club treatment and Barbie made her television debut Someday.
I’m gonna be exactly like you Till then, I know, just what I’ll do.
I’ll make believe that I do.
The ads were mesmerizing two little girls and there was this Groundswell of you know we want this thing with these breasts and parents couldn’t say no.
Yes, boobs win every time.
In 1959 alone. 350,000 Barbies flew off the shelves and into children’s arms and as Barbie swiftly stormed, the homes of kids across the country parents began to realize.
If this voluptuous tall had to live under their roof, she’d have to live by their rules.
Parents and kids Vie for control of America’s favorite doll after the break.
Welcome back Barbie Girls before the break Barbie burst onto the scene.
After a lackluster debut at the Toy Fair.
She cemented her popularity by pulling a classic, it girl move appearing on television, but just because Barbies, rise was inevitable, didn’t mean parents were down with her.
If they couldn’t keep their kids from asking for this busty doll, then maybe they could use her to forward their own goals and part their own values.
In fact, this was something that Earnest dichter, the Consulting psychologist, Ruth Handler hired had noted when he did that study on mother’s reactions to Barbie author mg Lord.
Again he discerned that the Barbie dolls could get girls interested in grooming and mothers.
Were kind of won over by this like maybe a now.
I don’t like this thing, but maybe this thing can help them except conventions of femininity that might be useful to them in the future from the outside.
Parents saw barbie not as a toy, but as a tool, she embodied the femininity but some mothers wanted their daughters to strive for femininity that could help them hit other womanly aspirations.
Namely House, husband baby’s, a stable life and so began The Reluctant partnership between Barbie and the grown-ups who bought her.
Mattel in turn had to keep up.
It was in their interest to keep parents happy and buying Barbies as a result.
You can look at Barbie Through the Ages and really see Barbies, look and lifestyle change and adapt to match the standards and expectations of modern Womanhood.
Barbie both shaped and reflected the marketplace.
Part of these multiple identities were response to what consumers wanted which in her early years was a much more domestic and housebound Barbie with a male consort or a husband enter can I’m Ken Barbie.
Have we ever know Mattel had to deal with Avalanches of consumer male say Saying she needs an accessory.
I mean, essentially he’s an accessory can moved into the dream house and Barbie modern woman that she was lived out every career Pastime and fantasy.
You could imagine camping out fun.
With this Barbie going camping set, you can make up Great Adventures like she was outdoorsy and athletic Olympic ski Village you put together.
She could do it all day.
Maybe you will be an airline stewardess, like, Barbie coffee tea, or milk or schoolteacher.
I’m going to have to keep you after school a movie star.
Darling, just run were out of God or even as Ruth Handler.
Said in those early days, Barbie has always represented.
The fact that a woman has choices and parents with Mattel’s help, made sure that Barbies choices were the right.
Though of course, Barbies influence wasn’t all positive.
I’m sure you’ve heard that that body of hers wasn’t just Bangin, it was anatomically impossible.
Her real-life measurements would be 39. 1833 leaving no room for stuff.
Like I don’t know internal organs if she’s meant to be aspirational, she was setting up her fans for some whacked-out expectations about their appearance and Main body aside, Barbie was, is and continues to be adored.
She’s cruised through the decades without ever falling off the cultural a list.
But that’s not just because of the way parents shaped her into a perfect plastic role model, kids had their own entirely different relationship with Barbie because kids, and I say this respectfully, as a former Kid, myself can be curious little weirdos.
The Assumption by Mattel that children would play with the playsets.
The way they were supposed to was a very false assumption.
I think, from the get-go.
While plenty of kids, played out the lives, prescribed on the cardboard box, others got real freaky with it, what most kids did with the doll.
I mean it was very very transgressive play, you know, acting out sex things or Barbie mutilation.
It was a way for a girl to say, I don’t want to be constrained in this way.
If you grew up with Barbie, maybe you participated and what mg calls unauthorized doll play.
So many of my friends gave their Barbie’s hair cuts, sticking them with choppy bangs that tragically would never grow back.
Or I had this one friend who just loved to pop those little heads off, truly like they were pen caps as for me my dolls may not have had genitalia but let me tell you they were boning and that’s because the purpose of play runs way deeper than showing kids how to wear a skirt.
Hurt or how to pick a career doll play is really important because it allows kids to learn about roles in society.
Amanda Koons a sociologist and professor at the University of Central Florida, a doll is a vehicle.
So you get to try on new identities.
You get to learn empathy and almost forms of creativity because dolls, leave things really open.
Or as the seminal band Aqua.
So eloquently, put it imagination life, is your creation.
Even as parents were vying for control of the toy kids were using Barbie for their own purposes, namely to act out all sorts of Juicy.
Grown up scenarios being a partner or a friend or a menace to society.
There’s both the Intrigue and also the knowledge that you are supposed to be that one day.
So it allows you into those spaces that otherwise you’re not allowed in this was definitely my Experience growing up with Barbie, sure.
I love the outfits but the real Allure was all the great drama.
I could play out heartbreaking and Fidelity no-holds-barred fights.
The girls were often in Conflict, but I love my Twisted little Melrose Place.
I worked out a lot of stuff with those dolls.
I learned social skills how to verbalize my feelings and how to cut hair.
I’m not saying aye.
I should have been living the same life as my Barbies but I sure loved living through them.
Kids for the most part aren’t using Barbie as a role model.
They’re using Barbie as a lens to understand their surroundings, namely what their parents and the adults in their lives are showing them mg Lord.
Again, femininity is the Toxin and Barbie is, the scapegoat, the little plastic object is just not that powerful.
You apparent Loom a lot larger.
Larger in a child’s life than this eleven and a half inch object and short the effects of Barbie are.
No one’s fault and everyone’s fault.
She’s only plastic, but she held up a mirror to show parents, what they, and the rest of society were already teaching their kids.
When Ruth Handler debuted Barbie back in 1959, she wanted to give kids a tool to explore and vent and dream about the lives.
They could grow into the harsh.
Light bar be shown on American Womanhood, was just a side effect.
I never dreamed of trying to change the world.
I wanted to show the world as it is.
So in that sense, Ruth and Barbie both succeeded Barbie, showed kids how to explore their fantasies.
She showed adults, what?
They’d been silently propping up as femininity and she showed everyone that life in plastic, could genuinely be fantastic.
Barbie’s been mirroring societal progress for 64 years.
She’s not stopping anytime soon.
We create the culture and Barbie follows where she goes from.
Here is up to us.
It is a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.
This episode was produced by Olivia Briley.
Next week is all about blood, how badly, we need it.
What it means to give it and how we used to think about it.
They thought, you know, like if I inject myself with the blood of a lion then I shall be strong and courageous like a lion The rest of our team is producer, Rimowa Philip our associate, producers are Nick, Delle Rose, and Laura Newcombe are in turn is Jasper, Direct Key.
The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing.
By Kelly Prime Andrea be Scott is our executive editor fact-checking by Ian, Michael sound design and mixing by Emma Monger, original music, by Sachs kicks, Ave Willie Green.
J bless and Bobby.
Lord, our theme song is Toko, Liana by cocoa with music supervision by Liz Fulton.
Technical Correction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman.
The executive producer at CSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte a, the executive producer from gimlet is Matt schulze, special, thanks to Benjamin, Mardell and Devon Tucker at Mattel and to Lydia Pole, Green Abbie ruzicka Dan Behar Jen hon, Emily wiedemann and Liz Styles, follow not past it now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify, click the Bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes, while You’re there.
Hey why don’t you read us 5 Stars?
You can follow me on Twitter at Simone pollen.
Thanks for hanging.
We’ll see you next week.
I have a lot of friends who were not allowed to play with Barbie but also you know many who did and we’re not all psychotic.
So it clearly the little thing couldn’t have had that much negative influence on our lives.