Who is Barbie creator Ruth Handler?

Ruth Handler launched the first Barbie doll in 1959

Barbie doll creator Ruth Handler, left, gets a kiss from Kristi Cooke, an actress dressed as a Barbie doll, during the 35th birthday celebration for the doll at FAO Schwarz in New York City on March 9, 1994.  (AP Photo/Robert Clark)
Barbie doll creator Ruth Handler (left) was the creative mind behind the iconic Mattel toy. (AP Photo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ruth Handler changed the world of toys forever in 1959 when she launched the Barbie doll with her husband Elliot for their company Mattel, which they co-founded with Harold Matson in 1945.

The hyper-feminine doll was unlike anything that had hit the shelves of toy stores before and it became an instant sensation, and has now inspired its own live-action film starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

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Greta Gerwig's film pays homage to the Barbie creator, and even features a cameo from her real-life daughter Barbara who is the doll's namesake.

As such, it may prompt viewers to ponder over Handler's life story, and how she came to create the doll that would change the world.

Here is everything that you need to know.

How Barbie was created

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES:  Ruth Handler, Mattel Inc. co-founder and inventor of the Barbie Doll, displays the special 40th Anniversary Barbie at a press conference 07 February in New York City.  A group of ten inspirational women were recognized at the press conference as
Ruth Handler was inspired to make Barbie after watching her daughter's playtime activities, and she named the doll after her (AFP via Getty Images) (MATT CAMPBELL via Getty Images)

As Handler tells it, she came up with the idea for Barbie while on holiday in Switzerland with her family when she saw a doll in the window named Lilli.

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The excitement it gave Handler's daughter led her to realise the benefit of making a similar doll, especially since she'd already seen how much her daughter enjoyed playing with paper dolls with interchangeable outfits beforehand.

The adult-figured doll came in multiple outfits but in order to get all of them you needed to buy the dolls separately, which gave Handler an idea: She could create a doll that has more than one outfit.

SOULTZ-HAUT-RHIN, FRANCE - MARCH 07: The first Barbie doll (C) created in 1959 is displayed during an exhibition dedicated to the Barbie doll at
The first Barbie doll (C) was created in 1959 (Getty Images) (Chesnot via Getty Images)

Handler named the doll after her daughter Barbara, though some arguments have been made that the toy was named after someone else, and she later created Barbie's companion Ken which was named after her and Elliot's son Kenneth.

In an interview with BBC Witness History in 1997, Handler explained that when she approached designing the doll she was keen not to make young girls have unrealistic ideas of body image.

She said: "We tried not to make her too beautiful. We were not anxious to have a beautiful doll, because we felt if little girls were going to project themselves through this doll, we didn't want the little girl to be threatened by the beauty of Barbie."

What Ruth's daughter thought of the doll

HOLLYWOOD - NOVEMBER 13:  Barbra Handler, daughter of Ruth Handler and namesake inspiration for the Barbie doll, shows a Barbie doll prior to placing her hands in cement that will adorn the sidewalk at the Egyptian Theatre on November 13, 2002 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images)
Barbra Handler, daughter of Ruth Handler, is the namesake for the Barbie doll (Getty Images) (Robert Mora via Getty Images)

Barbara Handler has spoken about what it was like to be always associated with her namesake, telling the BBC in the same interview that it was a strange experience.

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She explained, "It was just very odd – people were coming up to me, asking me for my autograph. When people came up and say to me, 'Oh, you're the real Barbie', I couldn't understand it because that's just a name that was given to the doll, but a lot of people thought that they modelled it after me and they made it look like me, and that I was supposed to be it. That's not true."

Barbara Handler makes a cameo appearance in Gerwig's Barbie film in which she meets Margot Robbie's Barbie in the real world.

Margot Robbie in Barbie. (Warner Bros.)
Margot Robbie in Barbie. (Warner Bros.)

Ruth Handler made prosthetic breasts for cancer survivors

Handler resigned from Mattel when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1975, which led to her having a double mastectomy.

Her experience with the disease and surgery led Handler to create a new product, prosthetic breasts for women who had mastectomies like her because she found the industry was severely lacking after her doctor recommended she stuff her bra with rolled up stockings.

AUG 30 1978, AUG 31 1978; A Believable Breast Prosthesis is Something More Than A
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Ruth Handler resigned from Mattel and later created prosthetic breasts for women who had mastectomies like her (Getty Images) (John Sunderland via Getty Images)

At a time when breast cancer wasn't spoken about Handler chose to be vocal, and her product, named Nearly Me, was designed for women who had had single or double mastectomies.

It went on to become a million-dollar enterprise and Handler sold the business in 1991.

Handler passed away following complications from colon cancer surgery in April 2002, she was 85.

Barbie will be released in cinemas on Friday, 21 July.

Watch the trailer for Barbie: