Barbie has always been under the gun of scrutiny from her introduction in 1959. With her disproportionate oversized topside, to the long legs, saucy lips, and skinny frame, she looked more like a hooker than a “typical” female. But that is the irony! She was modeled on a cartoon character who was a call girl!
But, let’s go back to 1952 where Barbie, (AKA Lilli), was born. She was introduced as a cartoon character in the Hamburg, Germany newspaper comic strip Bild-Zeitung as an upscale call girl with a suggestive and provocative nature. She gained fame as an adult novelty and was eventually made into a doll sold mostly to men as a suggestive trinket. From Robin Gerber, the author of Barbie and Ruth, “Lilli dolls could be bought in tobacco shops, bars, and adult-themed toy stores”. But now, we have to make the trip across the pond to find Barbie as an American citizen.
During a 1956 trip to Switzerland, 15 year old Barbara Handler found the Lilli doll and really wanted one. Her mother, Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, bought three and brought them home to the US. Three years later she introduced the Barbie doll, named after her daughter, as a figure that young girls would aspire to emulate. Since being introduced at the American International Toy show in New York in 1959, Mattel has sold over 1 Billion dolls and a lot of accessories, like cars, hair, clothes, and Ken!
So, did American girls aspire to be like Barbie as Ruth Handler had hoped? Let’s see; looking skinny like a model is good, makeup at an early age, unrealistic desire to be the “perfect woman” and guilt about not being like the others. It seems that between Barbie, the diet gurus, and the marketers, somebody has muddied the waters of what is really important. Too little, too late…