Who is the woman behind the most controversial adult doll, Barbie?

I was only 6 years old when I first received a Barbie doll. This doll was completely different from all my other dolls. She was, in my eyes, absolutely beautiful. She was a princess with short curly hair and of course, blond. Her wardrobe was extravagant, the outfits could have been designed by today’s famous designers.

I fell in love with this small, hard doll and it didn’t take long before I got my second Barbie doll. Barbie number two, had also blond hair, but she wore a ponytail.

At a young age, I didn’t think about anything else than dressing those two dolls and begged my parents to buy more and more dresses. When a few years later, a male doll Ken appeared, I was thrilled. My Ken was a good-looking man with dark hair. The first outfit I picked for him was a flight captain uniform. It really has something; most men do look handsome in a uniform, true? Ken got many kinds of clothes with time, he changed from captain to a doctor, the white coat can be very attractive too.

Of course, Barbie and Ken had to become a couple and get married. I must have been 9 or 10, when I went to buy Barbie’s wedding dress. I must have spent a lot of money on outfits for those three dolls. I wonder, why didn’t I have two Ken, instead of one, when I had two Barbies? That must have made one of my Barbies jealous. I assume that jealousy, caused by a man, wasn’t a big theme at that age.

My short curly hair Barbie, married my one and only Ken and it didn’t take too long until Skipper arrived. Skipper was in fact more similar to my Barbie with the ponytail, but that is also not a thing you think about when you are not even a teen.

Now I had a mum, a dad and a daughter, a complete family and one left over, lonely Barbie.

I never thought about who was behind these remarkable dolls, until today, after having seen the movie “Barbie”, I decided to find out about the woman who created Barbie, Ken and Skipper.

This woman’s name was Ruth Handler and she was a business woman, serving as the first president of Mattel, a company she co-founded with her husband Elliot Handler.

Some stories tell that Mr. and Mrs. Handler were struggling to survive and needed to create a winning toy. Ruth decided to try to create a 3D Version of her daughter’s paper dolls. Barbie is named after Ruth’s and Elliot’s daughter Barbara.

Barbie became the first fashion doll for children in the form of an adult. Amazing was in fact, that Ruth was able to sell Barbie in a toy industry that was hesitant to think of a doll that a little girl could use to project her hopes and aspirations.

These dolls have continued to inspire young girls for over 6 decades. They have been kind of a role model to help young girls who need a role model to help show them that nothing is impossible and they can become anything.

Mrs. Ruth was a daughter of a Polish immigrant. Ruth was born Ruth Marianna Mosko on November 4th 1916 in Denver, Colorado, to the Polish-Jewish immigrants, Jacob and Ida Moskowicz. Ruth and Elliot met already in high school and in 1938 they got married. The newly wed moved to Los Angeles where Eliott began making furniture out of two new plastics, Plexiglas and Lucite.

Ruth held several different jobs over the years and one was as a secretary at Paramount, the movie giant.
Ruth had observed that when her daughter and her friends played with their paper dolls, they were using the dolls to project their dreams.

Ruth suggested the idea of making a 3D version doll to Elliot and their then-partner Harold “Matt” Matson, whose name inspired the Mattel brand name.

Both men were skeptical at first. They told Ruth about the high costs and they feared that mothers wouldn’t buy their daughters a doll with breasts.

In 1956 the family Handler went on a trip to Switzerland and their Barbara, the daughter, laid eyes on a doll in a window of a Lucerne toy store.

This doll had breasts, a small waist and long, amazing legs. This doll was named Lilli and the family brought her back to Los Angeles. The Mattel company had employed a new VP of research and development, just on the project of adapting the doll for American girls. It took three years before Barbie saw the daylight.

Ruth Handler did not only create a doll, she also created prosthetics for breast cancer survivors. She was diagnosed with breast cancer herself in 1970 and had a radical mastectomy. Her own experience with breast cancer led her to form a new company that she named “Nearly me”. This company developed prosthetics for women who had undergone mastectomies. In 1970 she also decided to leave Mattel due to fraudulent financial reports. Only two years later they both, Ruth and Elliot, left the company.

Handler was indicted on charges of fraud and false reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the result became 2,500 hours of community service and a fine of $ 57,000. Ruth blamed it on her breast cancer that had left her unfocused.

In April 2002 Ruth passed away at an age of 85 and nine years later Elliot died at an age of 95.

When you go to the cinema and watch the movie Barbie, you will meet her talking to and holding Barbie’s hands. Barbie is a movie of “Our Time” and an anti-erotic utopia we inhabit.

All the Barbies are living in Barbieland and keep a distance to all Ken. The most popular Barbie is experiencing an existential crisis. To be able to understand herself, Barbie must travel to the human, real world where she will discover her true purpose and after Ken begs her to let him join her, she takes him with her.

The movie is directed by Greta Gerwig and the main Barbie is played by Margot Robbie and the main Ken by Ryan Gosling. Ruth Handler is played by Rhea Pearlman.

I had to go and watch the movie as I had heard it has played billions already. To be very honest, I have difficulties understanding that, as I was a bit disappointed, I had expected more from the movie.

Margot Robbie was as beautiful as the Barbie doll and played her role well though. Ken, named after Ruth and Elliot’s son, well he didn’t impress me, but I can’t blame Ryan Gosling as he probably made the most out of his character.

When the movie was released, I decided to go up to my mum’s attic storage and look for my four dolls and I found them all in a very good condition. They are 61 years old today, but look like new. Maybe I didn’t play very much with them?

I decided to ride on the Barbie wave now and sell them, so I visited two Auction houses while in Sweden. The first one I couldn’t agree to as I thought their asking price wasn’t good enough, but the second one was better and I left my dolls and hope that within the next weeks they will find a new home dolls as there are supposed to be quite a few collectors around the world. Probably I’m not the only one who wants to sell right now, so let’s see!


About Agneta de Bekassy

Author at ScandAsia and blogger on other websites as well. Swedish influencer in Bangkok

View all posts by Agneta de Bekassy

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