I don't know any girl who didn't grow up with Barbie. I can personally attest to owning hundreds of these dolls. I can also admit to having more than a few of the Barbie video games and playsets, too. While Barbie's suffered a bit of a slump popularity wise over the years, they're enjoying a major comeback thanks to acts of diversity; like the new line of dolls that come in different shapes, shades, and sizes. Not to mention many lean into the doll's long and storied history by poking fun at it; like what they do with the Mattel series Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse, a show I will freely admit to watching as a 27-year-old adult. That being said, while Barbies have been around for a long time, that's more than enough time to gain a dark, weird history, which Barbie has in spades.
Some of Barbie's dark secrets are small, like what her real name is (which will surprise you!). Others have to do with her inspiration and the sexism that needed to be dealt with in order for the doll to be made and gain popularity in the first place. Still, others are downright disturbing, But I won't spoil the facts here, read on to see 15 dark secrets about these cherished dolls.
15 The Real Barbie And Ken Are Siblings
Evidently, Barbie's a lot less of a role model than we thought and a whole lot more like Cersei Lannister; right down to the long blonde hair and blonde brother/boyfriend. If you look at the history of the dolls, you'll find out that Barbie was named after Ruth Handler's daughter, while Ken was named for her son. We're so used to thinking of these two as "together," that we totally glossed over the fact that these two are basically siblings. We've always wondered why Barbie or Ken never had any babies or got married, and I'm pretty sure this is why. Sure, Barbie and Ken have had wedding playsets, but they've never been married. It turns out that the Barbie family might be more at home in Westeros than we thought.
14 Her Inspiration Comes From Switzerland
Lilli started as a cartoon character created by Reinhard Beuthien for the German tabloid Bild. In 1953, the newspaper decided to make a doll that looked like the character and from there, history was made. Lilli was a character that was supposed to embody the "modern woman," meaning that she was ambitious and sassy, almost promiscuous. The cartoons would have her saying some crazy things, too. For example, when a police officer told her that she couldn't wear two-piece swimsuits in the street, she replied with "Oh, and in your opinion, what part should I take off?" #Sassy
13 Barbie Was Marketed As A Role Model To Discourage Dads From Being Into Her
According to the Barbie podcast on Stuff Mom Never Told You, Barbies were marketed as role models instead of straight up fashion dolls to attempt to get dads to see the dolls in a more indifferent way. Since Lilli dolls were seen as sexy, Mattel wanted to stay away from that in case things got scandalous. "She was just sort of a funny little bachelor gift that guys would give each other. She would usually wear saucy little outfits. I've seen one Lilli doll wearing just a little black nightie. If you look at her face closely, she has these really - I keep saying saucy. She has these really pouty lips, and her eyes look off to the sides sort of," said contributor Cristen Conger. "Instead of running away from this potential scandal, he said why don't you use this as a teaching device? Why don't you say, here's this very well dressed, attractive doll, don't you want to grow up and be well dressed and attractive? Then learn these lessons about what an ideal feminine appearance is," said Molly Edmonds, one of the podcast's contributors.
12 Barbie Has A Real Name
Barbie's real name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. To break down her name, Barbara means "foreign," and the name actually traces its roots back to Medieval Britain, after St. Barbara, who protects against fire and lightning. As for the name Millicent, it means "strength." While you wouldn't think of Barbie as a character who would live up to a name like that, you can actually make a good case for why the name is appropriate. Barbie is a woman who has had a lot of careers, and in order to have a ton of careers, you do need to have a certain strength of character. As for her first name, Barbie's dark history lends credence to the idea that she's a stranger of sorts for other toys.
11 You Are Not Her Biggest Fan
As much as you like Barbie, I guarantee you that you're not her biggest fan. Her biggest fan is actually a Los Angeles woman named Azusa Sakamoto. She's 35 and she's spent tens of thousands of dollars on Barbies and other Barbie-themed merchandise. "I've spent at least £55,000 on my collection of dolls, furniture, furnishings, clothes, and trips. As soon as I get my next paycheck I go online and buy even more," she told The Sun last year. "Every day I dress in Barbie clothes, my whole wardrobe and shelves are full of all the matching shoes, bags and nails." She gives herself Barbie manicures and dyes her hair pink. "I also have Barbie cutlery, kitchenware, utensils as well as Barbie jewelry, creams and even underwear."
10 Barbie Didn't Wear Pink At First
Barbie didn't start wearing pink or even become associated with the color pink until recently. If you look at the old Lilli dolls, you'll see that they weren't really partial to the color pink at all. Rather, they'd be wearing clothes that you might see women of the day wearing.
The first Barbie dolls were made in Japan, and their clothes were made by hand as well. While looking at the dolls, you'll notice a few (big) things. One, the dolls only came with blonde or black hair: diversity among the Barbie cast didn't come until much later. As for their actual clothes, they're very reminiscent of what the modern woman would be wearing at that time, or at least what the executives at Mattel thought women were wearing at the time.
9 There Was Trouble In Paradise For Barbie And Ken
Weirdly enough, Barbie and Ken have never been married, which makes all of those wedding playsets we had as kids seem like lies. They were basically living in sin for 43 years before breaking up in 2004, the day before Valentine's Day. Naturally, being toy celebrities, neither doll had a comment for the press, but the announcement was made at the International Toy Fair that year to a bewildered audience. "This is an announcement we thought we’d never make," said Barbie’s publicist. "I will confirm that Ken and Barbie are going to go their separate ways." According to all parties, they split up on reasonably good terms, they just weren't in love anymore. People at Mattel were telling parents to talk to their kids about it the way you'd talk about getting a divorce in real life.
2004 was a really weird year, guys.
8 Even Barbie Got Herself A Rebound
Barbie and Ken got back together in 2006 after a brief two year breakup, but that doesn't mean that Barbie lived like a nun before the pair got back together. Right after the announcement of the breakup was made, a new doll named Cali Guy Blaine was introduced. He actually sold really well for awhile and was way more popular than Ken, and while Blaine was around, no new Kens were made. Blaine even had a sister, Summer, who's a fixture in Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse now.
Blaine loves Mexican food, is a Taurus, and is from Sydney, Australia, which is a weird thing for a guy named "Cali Guy" Blaine. Either way, Barbie ended up rebounding with Cali Guy Blaine until Ken keep strolling back in her life. Ken came back with a new look, and was more modern than the former Ken. I guess Barbie liked what she saw because she kicked Cali Guy Blaine to the curb.
7 Barbie Is From Wisconsin
Despite Barbie being associated so much with Malibu, she's not from there originally. She moved there from Willows, Wisconsin, a fictional town where her friend Midge is from. A story came out in 2013 detailing a bit about Barbie's life in Wisconsin, and it's totally worth reading all the way through whether you consider it a canon interpretation of the character or not.
Barbie's parents, George and Margaret Roberts, were totally supportive, but also very demanding, according to the story. “Mom and Dad really put a lot of pressure on us,” Barbie's sister Skipper recalls. “Anything less than an ‘A’ on a report card was bad news. Anything less then perfection was unacceptable.” After Barbie turned 18, she went out to California to chase her dream of being a model, leaving Wisconsin behind.
6 The Story Of Blondie Bennett
A woman named Blondie Bennett spent more than $40,000 on plastic surgery to look like Barbie and had a side career posing as Barbie in toy stores. She's actually taking this a step further, and it's terrifying. The 38-year-old is actually undergoing hypnotherapy to try and make herself "brainless like Barbie is." She's unemployed and pays for all this with the help of sugar daddies who do it in exchange for photos of her dressed as Barbie. The hypnotherapy is actually working, too: she told the Daily Mail that she got lost for three hours trying to get to the house she grew up at. She said of her life "When people ask why I want to be Barbie I think 'who wouldn't want to be? She has the best life. All she does is shop and make herself look pretty - she doesn't worry about anything.'"
I don't want to live on the planet anymore, guys.
5 Barbie Has A Better Resume Than You
Barbie has had 150 careers over the course of her time as a toy, and she's been an astronaut three times, so she's actually repeating careers here. Listing all of her careers would be kind of impossible. There was Aerobics Instructor Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie, NASCAR Barbie, Paratrooper Barbie, Dentist Barbie, News Anchor Barbie, Scuba Diver Barbie, Secret Agent Barbie, Firefighter Barbie, Secretary Barbie, Paleontologist Barbie, Canadian Mountie Barbie, and even Presidential Candidate Barbie, to name just a few (okay, well, a lot).
While this is awesome that one fictional woman did all of this, there's a darkness to this, too. We don't really know who Barbie is under all of those careers and facades. Is she an overachiever or just a girl with an identity crisis?
4 Barbies Outnumber Babies 24 To 1
Look at the second handle on the nearest clock. Every time that thing moves, multiple Barbies are being sold somewhere in the world. That's right: every second, three Barbies were sold around the world in 2008. That means that for every baby born in 2008, nearly 24 dolls were made to represent them. Four million babies are born every year on average, and at three Barbies a second in 2008, we have 24 dolls to every baby if we do some math. That's some craziness, guys. Now, count to three. A Barbie was just sold. Today, one Barbie is sold every three seconds, marking a decline in the doll's popularity thanks to Edgier dolls, which is why Mattel made it a point to make the Barbie line way more diverse by adding in dolls with different body types and ethnicities.
3 Barbie Is Banned In Saudi Arabia
Barbie hasn't always been popular everywhere. The toy was banned in Saudi Arabia by the country's religious police. An announcement on the site stated: "Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West." That's some craziness, if you ask me.
The doll also got banned in Iran in 2012 because of moral reasons as well. “About three weeks ago they (the morality police) came to our shop, asking us to remove all the Barbies,” a shopkeeper in northern Tehran told Reuters. Pulling the dolls didn't get rid of demand though. “My daughter prefers Barbies,” Farnaz, a 38-year-old mother, told Reuters. According to Farnaz, her daughter thinks that the dolls the government likes are "ugly."
2 Barbie Was A Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model
Barbie appeared in a spread in the 50th anniversary of Sports Illustrated's 2014 Swimsuit Issue. The shoot presented Barbie as a doll version of a human supermodel, wearing the same swimsuit she came out with in 1959. “As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in” the issue “gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic,” Mattel said in a statement about the shoot.
It sparked backlash, forcing Barbie, who is a fictional character and a doll, mind you, to write an essay about why she chose to do it. She called for women to be less judgmental and for girls to "celebrate who they are." To be fair, it's pretty easy to own your body when it's been held up as the standard of perfection for decades now, to the point where people are hypnotizing themselves to become more like you.
1 Mattel Was Scared Of The Bratz Dolls
We can't really talk about Barbie without talking about how Mattel got totally scared of the Bratz dolls; a group of similar fashion dolls that were designed in a much more blatantly sassy or suggestive ways.
The Bratz dolls were controversial on their own; it's not every day that a doll overshadows Barbie in terms of unrealistic measurements or weirdly sexual overtones. Eventually, Mattel decided to take matters into the courtroom. "Bratz were flying off the shelves, and Mattel kind of got freaked out. In 2006, Mattel filed a suit against the Bratz doll manufacturer, MGA Entertainment, for alleged copyright and intellectual property rights violations. Because of a designer, I believe, at Mattel who was working on Barbie at the time, then went over to MGA Entertainment and started working on Bratz, so they thought he was giving some secret information over." Mattel then came out with the MyScene Barbies as a response. While those didn't really go over too well, Bratz are a thing of the past while Barbie is still very relevant today.