My Own Bild Lilli Doll

1 Sep

I collect interesting and unusual toys. For example, I have all of the Micro Machines Star Trek ships, and I have 1:64 scale die cast replicas of all the most famous automobiles. Recently, I added a toy to my collection that I am extremely proud of. It is an original Lilli doll:

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I put her in this cheap dollar store dress while I am waiting for a nicer dress to arrive in the mail. I have wanted a Lilli doll for years, ever since I learned about her remarkable history. I acquired one just recently from a seller on eBay. It was embarrassingly expensive.

For those of you who do not know, Lilli was the precursor to Barbie. She began with a cartoon that appeared in the Bild German newspaper in 1952. A cartoonist, Reinhard Beuthien, was asked to draw a picture to fill a space in the paper. He originally drew a picture of a baby with a large forehead and big eyes, but the editor did not like it, so he ordered Reinhard to come up with something else. Reinhard used the same drawing, but transformed it into a beautiful woman named Lilli. The whole history of Lilli can be read in the Wikipedia entry for the Bild Lilli doll.

So, Barbie began with a drawing of a baby that was transformed into a woman with infantile features. The cartoon was a hit. Eventually, the newspaper contracted for a doll based on the cartoon that was intended as a kind of pornographic gag gift for men. However, she became popular with young girls who liked to dress her and play house with her.

During a trip to Europe, Ruth Handler acquired three of these Lilli dolls and copied them to create Mattel’s now famous Barbie. If you ever wondered why Barbie looks the way she does, keep in mind that she originated with a pornographic cartoon about a baby-faced gold digger from Post-war Germany.

Never before in history had it been seriously considered that young girls would want to play with an adult-aged 11½ inch doll. It was only through the curious historical accident of a baby being transformed into a cartoon and this cartoon being transformed into a gag gift for men that the discovery was made. But there she was, Barbie, the apple in the eye of nine year old girls around the world.

I should know. My own sister, nine years older than me to the day, had to have one. As my mother tells it, my sister saw Barbie in a department store window and cried until my father, who didn’t have much money at the time, drove several miles back to the store and bought one for her. My sister acquired her first Barbie doll in 1959, the year I was born.

Barbie’s face has changed quite a bit over the years, but her body has remained mostly the same. She has always had those same large breasts and that same pinched waist. From her inception, there have been complaints about her unrealistic figure. Just recently, A Daily Mail article declared that “If Barbie was a real woman she’d be forced to walk on all fours and would be physically incapable of lifting her over-sized head.” Most complaints have centered on her large breasts and tiny waist. The claim is repeatedly made that if she were a real woman, she would have too little body fat to be able to menstruate.

I have always found these complaints to be frustrating and misleading. People who criticize Barbie’s figure notice only the characteristics they wish to criticize and never notice that everything about her is unrealistic and ridiculous. What about the fact that she is made of plastic and is frozen in time like someone who has used far too much Botox? They say that if a woman actually looked like Barbie she would be unhealthy. However, the evidence from women who have attempted to look like Barbie suggests that she would also be freakishly unappealing:

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That is not even the most significant misunderstanding. Since dolls are small, they must have exaggerated features so that their features stand out. If Barbie had a realistic face and figure, she would not look like a miniature person. She would look utterly featureless. She would look like a bar of soap.

Recently, sales in Mattel’s Barbie have been tanking. Personally, I think it is just because Mattel has saturated the market with so many holiday Barbies and specialty Barbies that their clientele cannot absorb the inventory. My brother used to buy every Holiday Barbie for his daughter. They are sitting in storage now, never removed from their original boxes, and no one knows what to do with them. I own a Star Trek Barbie. I gave an X-files Barbie to a friend who was an X-files fan and swore he would never own a Barbie. Recently, I bought a Barbie that is a copy of a vintage Barbie portraying a student teacher. I am a math teacher and found this edition to be particularly amusing:

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I have considered buying one of these for my female team-teaching partner, but I am not sure she would appreciate the joke.

To increase sales, Mattel is releasing a new line of Barbies with more realistic and diverse figures. These include short Barbies, tall Barbies and fat Barbies:

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However, I think they are missing the point. Young girls, influenced by fantasy films like Twilight, have become interested in dolls like this one that has green skin, giant eyes, and legs so long and skinny they are almost insectoid:

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Talk about an unhealthy body image!

Hyper sensitive people give Mattel a hard time for making a doll with unrealistic features, but they completely ignore the true nature of children’s fantasies and fetishes. Barbie’s flaw has never been that she is too unrealistic. Her flaw has always been that she is too realistic. Consider these other dolls that have wings and can fly or have tails and swim like fish:

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Children do not want reality. Reality is boring to children. Normal children who grow into normal adults are no more inclined to hold onto their hope of having a body like Barbie than they are to hold onto a desire to fly like a fairy or swim like a mermaid. Children’s stories and toys have always featured ridiculous things. For some reason that is a part of childhood. It must be a good idea or society would have given it up millennia ago. They would have given up Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, giants, witches, wizards, myriad talking animals and everything depicted by Dr. Seuss. Recall that Lilli was originally based on a baby-faced comic character that the toy makers apparently attempted to copy in all her unrealistic glory. She was the realization of a cartoon. Barbie is the reincarnation of a realized cartoon.

So what is the lesson in all of this? I will leave that to the reader. If I were here to teach a lesson, I would probably tell you to buy a fat doll or something like that.

But my Lilli doll is a thing of great beauty…and I will cherish her forever.

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One Response to “My Own Bild Lilli Doll”

  1. plasticallyperfect January 22, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

    I think people overthink the toys their children play with. I had Barbie dolls when I was a kid, lots of them. I regrettably gave them up in my teens, and just recently started getting back into them. When I was a kid I enjoyed the story-telling, dressing up, and adventures my Barbie went on; I didn’t think about her proportions. I never thought to myself “oh, I wish I had giant boobs and a tiny waist with an oversized head”—I was a kid, that sort of thing didn’t factor into my playtime. My body issues, of which I had many for a long time, stemmed from other people teasing me about being tall, my teeth needing braces, blossoming early, and having really big eyes—and none of it had anything to do with Barbie, just bullies. If anything, Barbie and my other toys gave me an outlet for my creativity, it gave me a way to express myself without judgement from anyone else.

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