top of page

hi Barbie! Ruth Handler, breast cancer survivor & inventor

Barbie was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler who named the doll after her daughter, Barbara. Originally Barbie was created to be a fashion icon where girls could play dress-up with her many outfits and accessories. Later, she would become a career woman, through dress-up, and inspire many young girls to be anything they wanted to be.

Many children grew up playing with Barbie dolls. I was one of those children, and I loved playing with my dolls and all the accessories. She had a fully stocked closet with lots of clothes and shoes, a pink convertible, a dream house, and the best of friends! As a child, I didn't consciously know what I was learning from my Barbie dolls. I used my imagination, pretending and creating adventures and a wonderful life for my dolls. What I did know - Barbie can be anything she wanted; elegant, strong, independent, fierce, and fashionable.

As an adult, I bought Barbie dolls for my daughter. She loved them just as much as I did. She was even able to play with the Barbie dolls that I had as a child when visiting my parents. My daughter is now a young adult, and when we were in Las Vegas we were able to go to the Barbie Museum. We walked through the entire space, took photos, and learned so much about the history of Barbie! If you have not been, go! It's amazing!

I could go on about Barbie, the many ways the dolls have brought joy to the lives of children, the controversies that surrounded the dolls, and spin-off dolls, but I won't. I want to briefly highlight Ruth Handler, inventor and breast cancer survivor.

Ruth Handler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1970. After having breast cancer and a mastectomy, Ruth, like many other women, felt "de-womanized.” Stuffing her bra and the expensive custom breast made of artificial body parts left Ruth unhappy.

In 1976, she started a new company making comfortable breast prosthetics in 30 sizes, Nearly Me. This was Ruth's second act! Ruth led a team of mostly middle-aged breast cancer survivors and had the honor of fitting former First Lady Betty Ford after her mastectomy from breast cancer. The prosthetics came in sizes 30A to 42DD and were priced $98-$130. Today, woman can purchase not only the prosthetics in varying styles and sizes, but also mastectomy bras, nipple prosthetics, and other accessories and items from Nearly Me.

Talking about breast cancer, mastectomies, and prosthetics was considered "taboo" at the time, but that didn't stop Ruth Handler. She would go on talk shows and interview for magazine articles to advocate for early detection while also showing her breast prosthetics and the similarities between the real and fake boob. “It seems my life has been going from breast to breast,” Ruth had said in reference to her career inventing Barbie (a doll with breasts) and breast prosthetics for women post-mastectomy surgery.

Whether you are a Barbie fan or not, it would be hard to deny that Ruth Handler has made a significant impact on society not only in the toy industry, but also in the breast cancer world. Let us take a lesson from Ruth and Barbie - Be Strong. Be Independent. Be YOU! Share your story, be an advocate, support women, and check for a lump ladies and gentleman.

Recent Posts

Recent Posts