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How Barbie Changed the Landscape in the World of Athletics

Barbie, the iconic fashion doll introduced by Mattel in 1959, has had a significant impact on popular culture and various industries, including the world of athletics. Barbie has many things—Olympian included. Her influence on girls and society has played a role in shaping attitudes toward sports and promoting inclusivity. Here are some ways Barbie has changed the landscape in the world of athletics:

Promoting a variety of sports

Through the years, Barbie has showcased her versatility by participating in and promoting a wide range of sports through various themed dolls and playsets. Known more as a career girl—Barbie has been everything from an athlete, coach, aerobics instructor and even a parent of an athlete with the Kelly doll debuting in the late 90s. By featuring dolls engaged in activities like gymnastics, tennis, soccer, basketball, and more, Barbie has encouraged young girls to explore different sports and pursue their athletic interests—especially once the landmark law of Title IX passed in 1972. 

While the first celebrity Barbie doll debuted in 1967 with model Twiggy as the inspiration, it wasn't until several years later that she embraced her athleticism.

In 1974, Barbie dove into the world of athletics as an Olympian—starting with just two sports—figure skating and gymnastics. By the 2020s, Barbie embraced pop culture covering every sport from track and field to baseball. She also replicated the likes of Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. These collaborations have helped shine a spotlight on accomplished female athletes, showcasing their achievements and inspiring young girls (and boys!) to dream big in the world of sports. 

Breaking gender stereotypes

Barbie has played a part in breaking down gender stereotypes surrounding sports. Historically, certain sports were often seen as predominantly male domains, but Barbie's involvement in different athletic pursuits has helped challenge these notions from the baseball Barbie that debuted in 1993 to 2020's boxer Barbie. By presenting girls with dolls engaged in traditionally male-dominated sports, Barbie has encouraged them to defy gender norms and pursue their passions, regardless of societal expectations.

Highlighting diversity

By 1998, Barbie has made efforts to embrace diversity and represent a broader range of body types, including different athletic body shapes. Barbie brand owner, Mattel® started introducing dolls with more realistic and varied body proportions. Barbie has sought to promote body positivity and inclusivity. This shift has allowed girls to see dolls that better reflect their bodies and has encouraged them to engage in sports and physical activities without feeling limited by unrealistic beauty standards.

While Barbie's impact on the world of athletics is more indirect and symbolic, her influence as a cultural icon cannot be overlooked. Through her diverse range of dolls, partnerships, and evolving messaging, Barbie has helped change perceptions and encourage inclusivity, and diversity challenged gender stereotypes and embraced an active lifestyle.

Quick Facts

Born March 9th, 1959
Hometown Willows, Wisconsin
Height 11.5 inches
# of Careers 250—from astronaut to Olympian


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