#Dispelling Myths by Tamara McLanahan
The Barbie doll, an iconic symbol of American youth and innocence. How many of us haven’t owned one or had a family member who did or does? First introduced in 1959, Barbie was made by Ruth Handler who wanted to create something fun for her young daughter who preferred playing with paper cutouts of older girls instead of the numerous baby dolls popular until that time.
But how many know where the inspiration for Barbie really came from?
It was during a trip to Europe in 1956 with her children Barbara and Kenneth that Mrs. Handler, co-founder of Mattel Toys with her husband, came across a German doll sold as a sexual gag gift named Bild Lilli. Marketed in bars, tobacco stores and adult themed toy stores, she was frequently a present at bachelor parties or purchased for other suggestive reasons. Anatomically gifted to say the least, and spectacularly endowed in her bust.
Lilli was in fact based on a popular German comic strip drawn by Reinhard Beuthin for Bild-Zeitung newspaper. Lilli was a blonde of questionable morals, a high-end call girl using men in her pursuit of pleasure and advancement. In one comic strip, a naked but artfully covered in newspaper Lilli explains to her friend, “We had a fight and he took back all the presents he gave me.” Eventually the buxom babe became popular with German children who enjoyed dressing her up in different clothes.
Handler changed her slightly when she envisioned the doll for American consumption. The bulging breasts remained but she toned down the call girl makeup and even gave her feet, something Lilli never had, instead having stiletto pumps where feet would be.
Barbie was the first massed produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. Handler chose to rename her Barbie, after her daughter. The doll’s boyfriend, Ken, is named after her son. She was made in both blonde and brunette versions. (Nary a redhead at the time, mores the pity.) The dolls caught on quickly and the rest is history.
Controversy has surrounded Barbie over the years. A lawsuit that was settled out of court against Mattel by the creators of the Bild Lilli doll, complaints from parents over the ample charms of the dolls. Was Barbie a positive role model for little girls with her 36–18–38 original measurements? Did that foster a negative body image for generations to aspire to? Was she too materialistic with her dream houses, clothes, cars and never-ending accessories?
To her credit, Barbie broke gender roles over the years, from the cliched airline stewardess to a doctor, an astronaut, an Olympic athlete, a pilot and even a U.S. Presidential candidate. She’s sold over 800 million dolls and is known around the world. And in recent years she has been reformed to more attainable and natural measurements, which in itself became controversial. Her full story is fascinating and more than I can adequately cover here.
But who will be able to look at her quite the same now after knowing more about her risqué beginnings?
“So have a pleasant and productive day, and oh, what myths can we bust today?”