Mattel’s first Barbie doll debuted at a New York toy fair on March 9, 1959, sporting blonde curls and a black and white strapless swimsuit. As the brand expanded in later years, the public learned a number of other details about the character, including her full name (Barbara Millicent Roberts, named after the daughter of Mattel co-founders Ruth and Elliot Handler) and her hometown (the fictional Willows, Wisconsin). Her parents are George and Margaret, though they’ve never been sold in toy form.
And while the original doll was described as a “Teen-Age Fashion Model,” she’s since had more than 200 other occupations, from U.S. presidential candidate to astronaut to mermaid (if that counts as an occupation). Today’s Barbie isn’t confined to a single body type, hair color, race, or any other identifying feature, either. The tagline of Greta Gerwig’s upcoming live-action film, Barbie, premiering on July 21, 2023, said it best: “She’s everything.”
The cast of the film promises to reflect that, with a number of actors portraying various versions of the character. Margot Robbie is the original doll; Dua Lipa is mermaid Barbie; Issa Rae is presidential Barbie; Hari Nef is doctor Barbie; Ana Cruz Kayne is judge Barbie; and so forth.
But not every doll in Mattel’s Barbie universe is actually a Barbie. In addition to boyfriend Ken, she has a whole host of siblings and friends who have cycled on and off shelves over the years. Here are 15 characters you should know.
In 1961, Barbie introduced her new boyfriend, Ken Carson (named after the Handlers’ son, Ken). In doll Ken’s words, per the Barbie media site, “Barbie and I met in 1961 on the set of our first television commercial together. It was love at first sight.” Though Ken has blithely taken a backseat to his more famous girlfriend for most of their shared history, he’s made headlines on his own at least a couple of times.
In the early 1990s, Mattel polled young girls for their thoughts on whether Barbie needed a new flame. “They wanted Barbie to stay with Ken, but wanted Ken to look a little cooler,” a Mattel spokesperson Lisa McKendall told journalist Dan Savage. In 1993, consumers met this cooler version of the character: Earring Magic Ken—the counterpart for Earring Magic Barbie—flaunted an earring (naturally), black jeans, and a purple pleather vest over a purple mesh crop-top. From a chain around his neck hung an oversized silver ring that looked a lot like a certain sex toy especially popular among gay men.
While McKendall tried to maintain that the design simply mirrored “what [little girls] see their dads, brothers, and uncles wearing” and that Mattel “was not in the business of putting cock rings into the hands of little girls,” Savage argued that Earring Magic Ken was an unmistakable reflection of queer culture. “Queer Ken is the high water mark of, depending on your point of view, either queer infiltration of popular culture or the thoughtless appropriation of queer culture by heterosexuals,” he wrote. It became the best-selling Ken doll up to that point, thanks in large part to the number of gay men who bought one. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Ken’s evocative jewelry caused Mattel to discontinue the toy.
Barbie and Ken stayed together until Valentine’s Day in 2004, when Mattel’s vice president of marketing, Russell Arons, revealed that the two “feel it’s time to spend some quality time—apart.” Barbie went on to have a brief relationship with an Australian surfer named Blaine, but her ex ultimately succeeded in winning her back in 2011 “after a series of grand gestures that included everything from personalized cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery to billboards professing my love,” Ken said.
In 1963, Mattel debuted Barbie’s best friend: a wide-eyed, freckle-faced doll named Midge Hadley. The two had the same proportions, so they could easily share clothes. Midge hasn’t been around consistently throughout Barbie’s history, but her reappearances have been memorable [PDF]. In 1991, for instance, “Wedding Day Midge” married Ken’s best friend, Alan (formerly Allan) Sherwood, whom she’d been “dating” since the 1960s. (Naturally, Barbie and Ken were in the wedding party.)
Midge and Alan later became the center of a “Happy Family” line complete with kids and grandparents. One 2002 product from the collection was “Midge and Baby,” featuring a pregnant Midge whose detachable belly contained a removable baby. Mattel thought the dolls would be “a wonderful prop for parents to use with their children to role-play family situations—especially in families anticipating the arrival of a new sibling.” But some people saw it differently.
“There’s enough teenagers getting pregnant as it is. I think they’re glamorizing it, and it’s horrible,” 43-year-old Philadelphian Jackie Ellis told the Associated Press.
The context—that Midge was a married adult with a 3-year-old at home—was lost on certain consumers who felt the toys were promoting teen pregnancy. After fielding a number of complaints, Walmart ended up removing not just “Midge and Baby” from shelves, but another “Happy Family” set comprising Alan, toddler Ryan, and pregnant Midge. (Which seems to suggest that at least some people were scandalized at the mere notion of a pregnant doll, even in stereotypically “wholesome” circumstances.)
Midge’s next big revival came in 2012, when she appeared in the web series Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. Her story arc doesn’t feature a husband or any kids, but she does get a makeover that helps her win over her crush, Ryan.
Allan joined the lineup in 1964 as both Midge’s boyfriend and “Ken’s buddy.” Like Midge and Barbie, Allan and Ken could share clothes. The character’s namesake was Allan Segal, husband of the Handlers’ daughter, Barbara. Allan didn’t last beyond the mid-’60s, and when he was reintroduced in 1991, his name had been updated to “Alan.” (It’s unclear why, but it may be worth mentioning that Allan and Barbara Segal had gotten divorced in the interim.)
Allan’s debut coincided with the arrival of Barbie’s little sister: Skipper, clad in a red and white bathing costume to complement Barbie’s black and white one. Like most of Mattel’s dolls, Skipper has undergone a number of transformations over the years. One version even evolved before your very eyes: 1975’s “Growing Up Skipper” got taller and grew breasts when you twisted her arm.
“You can make her change instantly from a little girl to a tall, slender, teenage doll, which is something you can’t do,” the commercial explained to young girls. These days, Skipper is often portrayed as a tech-loving teenager with a purple streak in her dark brown hair.
5. and 6. Tutti and Todd
Barbie’s family grew once again in 1965 with the arrival of twins Tutti and Todd, who were younger than Skipper and boasted bendable appendages. Neither character is still an active part of the Mattel universe, and Todd’s two most recent appearances weren’t with Tutti: He was the ring bearer in Midge and Alan’s wedding, alongside flower girl Kelly; and he and Stacie cosplayed Michael and Jane Banks in a 2008 Mary Poppins set.
Whether Tutti ceased to exist entirely or just got renamed is up to interpretation. But if the character is still around, she’s Stacie—not Kelly. Basically, in 1992, Mattel rolled out Barbie and Skipper’s newest little sister, Stacie. Todd’s pairing with Stacie in 2008—seemingly as twins—supports the theory that Mattel briefly rechristened Tutti as Kelly for Midge and Alan’s wedding before eventually settling on the name Stacie instead.
It’s all pretty much moot, because the modern-day iteration of Stacie—a sporty blonde preteen or young teen as seen in the TV series Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures and its related content—doesn’t have a twin brother, anyway.
8. Chelsea (née Kelly)
The name Kelly didn’t go to waste after Stacie appeared on shelves. In the mid-1990s, Mattel introduced Barbie’s new “baby sister”: Kelly, a blonde toddler who slept in a crib and attended nursery school. Though the character still exists today, she’s slightly older and answers to “Chelsea.” According to a 2022 Gawker deep dive, Kelly was called “Shelly” in international markets due to trademark rights, and Mattel decided to simplify things by renaming her “Chelsea” everywhere. In Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures, Chelsea is a 6-year-old pigtailed prankster with a very active imagination.
In the late ’90s, yet another sister arrived on the scene: Krissy, an infant whom Barbie would push around in a stroller and rock to sleep. Krissy’s tenure didn’t last beyond the early aughts, and she’s not featured in the modern Barbie programs.
In 1966, Mattel responded to the mod movement with Francie, “Barbie’s ‘MOD’ern cousin,” who, in the words of one New Jersey reporter, “makes both Barbie and Midge look like squares.” Francie sported flipped-out hair, rooted eyelashes, and all the latest “kicky” British trends, from colorfully patterned stockings to white go-go boots. She stayed fashion-forward through the end of her run in 1976. Mattel also released a Black version of Francie in 1967 who made history as the brand’s first-ever doll of color.
While Midge was MIA from the late ’60s through the early ’80s, groovy P.J. occupied the position of Barbie’s best friend. (The early iterations of P.J. literally used Midge’s head mold.) She was added to the Malibu series in the early ’70s, and even became an Olympic gymnast in 1975 (so, of course, did Barbie herself). P.J.’s last appearance was in 1984, and Midge reclaimed her spot beside Barbie in 1988’s “California Dream” collection [PDF].
In 1980, Mattel debuted its first Black doll that was actually named “Barbie.” After that, it became the norm for the company to sell both Black and white versions of new Barbie dolls. Before then, the Black dolls in Barbie’s world were typically their own characters (except for Francie). First came Christie, a memorable member of Mattel’s 1968 line of talking dolls. Christie said things like “Should I change my hairstyle?” and “I’d like to be a fashion model,” and soon started dating Brad, Ken’s first Black friend. (Brad was a talking doll, too; one of his catchphrases was “Christie is the greatest!”)
For the next few decades, Christie remained an integral member of Barbie’s inner circle. She was even part of Barbie’s girl band, Beyond Pink, which released a 10-track pop album—featuring pop bangers like “Think Pink,” “You Are the Universe,” and “The Girl of Today”—in 1998.
Another Black doll, Nikki, first appeared as part of Mattel’s 1997 Teen Skipper line [PDF]. Nikki was clearly one of Skipper’s peers during those early years, and some people have even assumed she was Christie’s younger sister. But Nikki has been repositioned as one of Barbie’s BFFs in recent Barbie content—and Christie has been conspicuously absent—so it seems like the two have simply merged into a single character.
That said, Barbie’s childhood friend in the 2015 adventure film Barbie & Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure was named Christie, so it’s also possible that Christie and Nikki are two unrelated friends of Barbie, and Skipper’s Nikki just no longer exists. (Mattel does have a habit of recycling names: Midge’s daughter was also named Nikki, as was an “Animal Lovin’” doll from the ’80s.) In Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures, Nikki is the “fashionista friend” who’s always planning her next creative enterprise.
Teresa, Barbie’s first Latina friend, originally appeared in two 1988 collections, “California Dream” and “Island Fun” [PDF]. She was quickly established as one of Barbie’s besties and remains in that category today. In addition to performing with Christie and Barbie as Beyond Pink, Teresa has been featured in tons of other multimedia content, from the 1999 picture book Barbie High Sea Adventure to the 2008 musical movie Barbie and the Diamond Castle. In Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures, Teresa is a bilingual “technical taskmaster” who geeks out on all things STEM.
Kira, an Asian American doll, was introduced in 1990’s “Wet N’ Wild” line and became a ’90s mainstay alongside Christie and Teresa. She rollerbladed, she played in the WNBA and the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and she spent a lot of time at various beaches [PDF]. She also completed a very important space mission with Barbie in the 1998 book Barbie Shooting for the Stars.