Barbie began her life as, essentially, a glorified sex toy. She—it’s fair, given her influence over her gender and her culture, to refer to her as “she”—is modeled on a mid-century German doll and comic-book figure named Lilli. Sassy and buxom, Lilli was euphemistically prostitute-like, fond of breezy phrases like “I could do without balding old men, but my budget couldn’t!” and, “The sunrise is so beautiful that I always stay late at the nightclub to see it!” Her doll—cartoonishly curvaceous, in the traditional manner of women-designed-by-men—was, in the mid-20th century, often given out as a joke at bachelor parties and similar gatherings. A funny thing ended up happening with those jokey, sex-infused pieces of plastic, though: Kids began to play with them. Girls, in particular. They liked dressing Lilli up. They liked grooming her hair. They liked imagining that, one day, they would be—they would look—like her.
It’s that impulse of small humans—to treat dolls as vehicles not just of amusement, but of aspiration—that makes today’s news such a big deal. Barbie, the doll that the Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler modeled after Lilli and introduced at the World’s Fair in 1959, will now come in a variety of shapes and shades. (And also: a variety of hairstyles, and eye colors, and “face sculpts.”) The doll will still be fairly cartoonish—this is Barbie, after all—but, from today, she can be bought in sizes “petite” and “tall” and “curvy.” (The terms, Time notes—the English euphemisms, as well as their translations into other languages—were extensively debated by Mattel marketing executives.) She can also, just as importantly, be bought in seven different skin tones.