The story of the Barbie doll – is it a copy or an inspiration?


If you clicked on this article, you probably know something about the Barbie doll. When I was little, I wasn’t really interested in the brand itself; I was also passionate about cars and other toys, but I had my moments when I enjoyed making clothes for my doll.

But now that I am older and not so wise, I wonder a lot about things that I liked. Therefore, a question popped-up: how, when, and why did Barbie become such a big deal?

It all started in…

Germany, 1952. That’s when the BILD magazine had its first issue, where  Reinhard Beuthien had to create a character for it, and that’s how Lili came to life. Lili was a young woman, beautiful and bold, that has somehow impressed the readers with her witty way of talking. She was an inspiration for young women and a delight for everyone.

Not much after her creation, someone made a doll named Lili, which was very appreciated by the large public.

Then Lili caught someone’s attention

When Ruth Handler came from America to Europe on a vacation, she saw Lili and told her husband her idea of a new doll inspired by the design of Lili. Her husband was also a co-founder at the Mattel company, which was making dolls, so things were not so hard to implement.

The name Barbie came from her daughter, named Barbara. Later, when Ken was created, his name was inspired by her son’s name.

Now, it is one of the most sold characters from the whole Mattel company, and it still has as much success as it did back in the day. Even though Bratz has been the most dangerous competition, Barbie represented more than just a toy. For most of the kids, she was a way of expressing the limitless imagination of playing and having fun.

There were some problems, though…

The first one was the lawsuit. Mattel was sued for copyright infringement and falsely implying that the doll was Mattel’s original idea. The company decided then to buy the whole copyright and the patent rights for the original company that made Lili, owning from that point the whole Barbie concept.

The second problem is a moral one. One that is presented differently these days, but has the same roots. Is Barbie ruining the girls’ childhood by projecting false and unnatural features in their image of how a woman should look like? We already have seen many people having surgeries for a doll-like appearance, but is this concept affecting little girls?

Lastly, if we really think about the concepts of copying and inspiration, both of them have ups and downs. Most of the things we are used to these days are continuously developing, changing, inspired by the trends in those moments. Inspiration is good, and copying has its own role sometimes.

The moral of the story: never let Americans steal your concept. They will make more money off of that thing, for sure.


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