Paper Dolls & Bild-Lilli

The Barbie doll debuted on television in March of 1959. She was not introduced as a doll in this commercial, but more as a fashion model. This idea was influenced by Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler, who noticed that the predecessors of Barbie were highly successful in their portrayal of adult women.[1] Barbie’s figure made her different from all others because of her curves and womanly features. Girls wanted to be like her because she was new and fresh. She represented beauty and fashion while baby dolls represented the expectation of girls to become mothers[2]. Barbie, while different than other dolls, was not just created out of thin air, rather she was developed as improvements of her predecessors- paper dolls and Bild-Lilli.

In the 1950s, paper dolls were widely manufactured[3]. There were many different types of these dolls representing members of the family, animals, and fictional characters. However, out of all of these characters, adult women, were the most popular[4]. Little girls would dress up these dolls in many different fashions and use them as puppets to describe stories. Ruth Handler noticed this trend in young girls through her own young daughter, Barbara. While paper dolls had interchangeable clothes, they did not stay on well[5]. Ruth Handler took note of this downside to paper dolls and was determined to not only fix these problems, but change a little girls’ play from two-dimensions to three[6].

In 1956, Ruth Handler and her family went on a vacation to Europe. While in Switzerland the Handlers visited the town of Lucerne. They stopped by a toy shop so that Ruth’s son, Ken, could go inside. While waiting for Ken, Barbara and Ruth stood outside and admired a wooden doll in the window known as the Bild Lilli[7]. She looked elegant and cartoonish and donned fashionable outfits. Throughout the rest of their trip in Europe they found other Bild Lilli dolls that were made of plastic. In European countries the doll was used as a novelty sex toy based on the comic strip known as the Bild Zeitung which was the name of a tabloid in Hamburg, Germany in 1953[8]. They were used as gag gifts for men at their bachelor parties, or put on the dashboards of cars to display. Ruth decided that Americans needed a doll that was similar to this, but was suitable for little children. Ruth Handler brought home a model to use and showed it to Jack Ryan, the head of Mattel’s research and design team so that he could work with it[9]. By 1959 Barbie as we know her was complete. While Barbie was not meant to be a sex icon, her body and features are very similar to her sex doll predecessor. While the Bild Lilli affected adult male men in Europe, the Barbie doll gave girls a new image to look up to.

Look at how similar the Bild Lilli doll is to Barbie. bild-lilli

Bild-Lilli Doll[10]

Barbie’s antecedents allowed for her success. The paper dolls gave Ruth Handler the idea that girls needed to experiment with fashion and have interchangeable clothes. Young girls loved the adult paper dolls because they could practice how they would dress and look as an adult. The other predecessor of Barbie, the Bild Lilli, allowed for the creation of Barbie’s iconic figure. Because of Barbie’s beauty and perfection, little girls were inspired to be just like her. This was a problematic issue that caused many health issues for girls. There are many different Barbie dolls today and many more accessories that allow for the dolls popularity to continue. Throughout the years Barbie has had many adjustments to adapt to the change of times in America. Her iconic image will always be remember because of the impact she made on America.

[1]Robin Gerber, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her, (New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2009), 5-6.

 [2] Ibid., 6-8.

[3]Ibid., 5-6.

 [4] Robin Gerber, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Create Her, 6-7.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Robin Gerber, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Create Her, Chapter 2.

[7] Ibid., Chapter 2.

[8] Tim Walsh, Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them (New Jersey: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2005), 130-133.

[9]Robin Gerber, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Create Her, Chapter 2.

 [10] Tom and Bonnie Schiedler. Bild Lilli doll sheer night gown ensemble. http://www.dollreference.com/bild_lilli_7.html (Accessed March 26, 2013).

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