Based on the German cartoon character, Bild Lilli from Bild-Zeitung (where Lilli was described as a high-class call girl),Barbieis now a commercial, yet sensational figurine for kids across the world. The Lili doll was immortalized as the "saucy, novelty doll", often gifted to men on bachelor parties, dangled from the rear-view mirrors of cars or even gifted to girlfriends as a "suggestive keepsake."
Before their feminist stance, Barbie stood for traditional feminine values: the submissive, moldable, sexualized homemaker and caretaker, intended as the ideal woman a girl should aspire to be. Popularizing the dumb, vapid, superficial and overtly-sexualized blonde woman, the Bild-Zeitung was a German Tabloid newspaper platforming the cartoonist, Reinhard Beuthien.
June 24, 1952
Bild featured a cartoon strip of Lilli at the fortune teller, asking for the address and telephone number of the tall, dark, and handsome men in her locality, and Germany fell in love with her. Soon, this high pony-tailed, blonde, buxomous woman, dressed in risque clothing, appealing to the male eye was dollified by designer Max Weissbrodt at the O&M Haußer toy company. This 12-inch plastic doll made her debut in 1953, and found herself in every corner across the country.
Newspaper Ads began encouraging men to buy the dolls as a keepsake/model their wives and girlfriends could aspire to. By the end of the 19th century, Lilli became a fashion icon. Lilli's short dirndls, Capri pants and exaggeratedly tiny shorts exposed the beautifully sculpted legs that would eventually become the model for the early Barbie (Breward, C. 2007).
For the post-WWII capitalistic world, Lilli was the inspiration. It wasn't until 1956 that Lilli met Ruth Handler and was subjected to a hostile takeover by the Mattel company, thus laying the red carpet for Barbie's debut in 1959.
“Handler took that and projected onto it the All-American girl, which was kind of the message in the 1950s: You had to look like a German sex worker but also be pure and virginal.” ~M.G. Lord, University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; author of the 1995 book Forever Barbie: The Unauthorised Biography of a Real Doll
Barbie's legacy sprouted from Lilli, is deeply rooted in a misogynistic viewpoint of how women should exist within a society. Lord having analyzed Lilli's transition to Barbie informs us of the changes in the glances the 2 dolls have: "Originally, she had the sidelong glance that you associate with 19th-century pornography. The 1971 Malibu Barbie was the first one that looks straight ahead. I think it was a reflection of the sexual revolution."
“By 1970, you could have that body, you could be that overtly sexual and actually look at the viewer. It’s like the way that Manet’s Olympia painting was so startling because the unabashedly naked subject was engaged visually with the viewer. It was a defiant meeting of the male gaze with her own eyes.”
Breward, C. (2007). Review Article: The Politics of Fashion: The Politics of Fashion Studies. Journal of Contemporary History, 42(4), 673–681.