Mar 26, 2024

Barbie's Beauty Evolution — A Timeline

A timeline of decade-defining moments and much-needed evolution.

Mattel, Amazon

You can't unpack how pop culture has shaped beauty ideals without talking about Barbie. Since debuting in 1959, the fashion doll has had a significant influence throughout the decades.

There are countless iconic references from that unmistakable Barbiecore pink lip to major themed moments such as '60s Mod or '90s Totally Hair Barbie. But it must be said: Too often, Barbie dolls have lacked diversity and realistic portrayals of women: The first official Barbies of color weren't made until 1980, and Barbie remained a size 0 until just a few years ago, the negative effect of this on young girls' body image undeniable.

While Barbie will always be a topic of nuanced conversation, there's no denying the ever-evolving doll is firmly ingrained in the zeitgeist. And, thankfully, her maker, Mattel, continues to make strides toward better representation.

As the new Barbie movie hits theaters, take a strut down memory lane and see how Barbie has evolved over the years.


On March 9, 1959 (yes, she's Pisces girly), Barbie made her debut in the world. According to the History Channel, the doll was created when Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler found her daughter Barbara wanting to play with paper dolls over her baby dolls. Mattel modeled Barbie after the Lili doll, based on a German comic strip character and controversially known as a prostitute gag gift for bachelor parties. The company then bought the rights to Lili before making its own version and naming it "Barbie" in honor of Barbara.

The original doll stood at about 11.5 inches tall with bleached blonde hair tied in a low ponytail with curly fringe bangs. She donned black-lined eyes, baby blue lids, and a classic red lip — a look she would sport for years to come — and most noticeably, had breasts, which dolls for children didn't have at the time.


The '60s marked the decade of the Barbie bob. From 1961 to 1967, Barbie wore her hair in a voluminous bubble cut colored in different shades, such as this rich dark brunette.


Who better to be Barbie's first celebrity-inspired doll than supermodel and '60s icon Twiggy? Twiggy Barbie had the model's signature pixie with a deep side part and spidery lashes.


Though dolls Christie, Julia, and Francie were introduced much earlier, they were only known as Barbie's friends. Barbie herself was still very much white until the first Black Barbie was introduced in 1980. In Black Barbie: A Documentary, a film that chronicles its creation, it's revealed that many of Mattel's Black employees (including the subject of the documentary and one of the company's first Black hires, Beulah Mae Mitchell) repeatedly asked co-founders Ruth and Elliot Handler for a Black Barbie. It wasn't until Mattel hired its first Black designer Kitty Black-Perkins, that it finally became a reality.

According to The Independent, Perkins designed the first Black Barbie with the help of a Black male hairdresser and a sculptor. The doll wore her hair in a voluminous Afro with bigger lips and a wider nose. The 40th-anniversary edition (pictured above) gives a subtle nod to the iconic Afro by putting Barbie's natural hair in a stunning structural updo.


That same year, Mattel created the first Hispanic Barbie. She had light brown eyes with enviously long lashes that match her long thick dark hair. Makeup was minimal, with a classic neutral lip. While beautiful, she played into stereotypical Hispanic wear, with a Fiesta-style dress and shawl but had no specific signifier of which Hispanic culture she represented. Mattel's attempt at true representation of the many Hispanic cultures out there would come later with dolls that were country-specific.


Mattel also launched the first Asian Barbie in 1980. She hailed from Hong Kong and had long thick wavy hair styled in a half-up half-down look with full blunt bangs. Coined insensitively as "the Oriental" doll, it reinforced thin-body and light-skin stereotypes that are often associated with Asian women. Mattel later focused on releasing dolls from specific Asian countries to better diversify and represent the many cultures that make up the Asian race.


The Day-to-Night Barbie had the doll stylishly transitioning from working her nine-to-five to going out at night, with her glamorous hair slicked back with a trail of voluminous curls behind her.


Acclaimed costume designer Bob Mackie, who designed for Judy Garland, Diana Ross, and Marilyn Monroe, to name just a few, is credited for really putting Barbie on the map. As The Hollywood Reporter states, "Mattel might have created Barbie, but Bob Mackie made her famous."

The first doll he designed debuted in 1990, and she has major star power. She had long platinum blonde hair gathered in a high-fashion ponytail with a sequined dress and feather boa.


For Barbie's first foray into politics, she aimed big (as one always should) by running for president. President Barbie came with her hair in a voluminous blowout and a classic red lip to match her American-themed inaugural ball gown and power red suit.


In true '90s fashion, Totally Hair Barbie came with crimped hair cascading all the way down to the floor (the longest hair a Barbie's ever had). She left the red lip behind and opted for Barbie pink.


While this doesn't mark the first partnership with legendary fashion house Oscar de la Renta (the brand first designed outfits for already existing Barbies in 1985), this limited-edition Barbie is as chic as it gets. She had dark chocolate hair styled in a high updo accessorized with a tiara and a dark moody lip.


It's giving fabulous. The Blonds designers David and Phillipe Blond partnered with Mattel to create three one-of-kind dolls and a collector's item available for purchase, the Diamond Barbie. She wore her platinum blonde hair in full Old Hollywood glamour waves, a classic cat-eye, and dark red lips for a bold statement.


The criticism of Barbie's influence on body image reached its peak in the 2000s. Studies showed how the doll's extremely thin and singular figure negatively impacted children's self-esteem.

In a move to be more inclusive and upend its narrow portrayal of the female body, Mattel debuted Barbies in three new models: petite, tall, and curvy. The curvy doll was the most notable change in the doll's appearance, though many still wish for the doll to be even curvier to properly reflect the breadth of different body sizes and shapes.

Instagram: @Rodarte

In another partnership with a major fashion house, Barbie was dressed and designed by Rodarte. Designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy created outfits and styled Barbie from designs in their 2018 Paris Spring Couture collection, which featured ethereal sheer garments, floral themes, and butterflies woven throughout models' hair.


Now we're at current day with the premiere of Barbie starring Margot Robbie. To celebrate the film, Mattel has gone extremely meta and gifted fans with the doll version of Barbie from the movie, who has long beachy waves, full bangs, and a pink bow to match her bubblegum pink gingham dress. We have reached peak Barbiecore, and we are here for it.