Barbie may be turning 50 today, but the doll it was modeled on, its doppelganger, is actually a bit older than that: she’s almost 54. And everybody has forgotten her birthday. Poor Lilli!
Ruth Handler saw a Bild Lilli doll while vacationing in Switzerland with her kids, snatched up three of them, and brought them back to California, determined to copy the doll and sell it on the American market. Little did she know that Bild Lilli was actually a gag gift, a novelty item, sold in bars and tobacco shops and meant for an adult public. It was the sort of present men would give each other with a wink – a toy meant to titillate. Men would place Bild Lilli dolls in their cars – on their dashboard or hang them from their rearview mirrors, on a little swing.
Lilli’s history goes back a bit further. Before being manufactured as a gag gift, she had been a character in a comic strip created by Reinhard Beuthien for the German tabloid Bild-Zeitung. All her stories revolved around fashion & appearance, staying out late, and sleeping with old, rich men. In short, Lilli was an unabashedly sexual, proud gold-digger.
Barbie kept the looks – down to a tee – but instead of flaunting her sexuality, she focused on looks and shopping – something far more “innocuous” for parents.
Now, watch these two videos:
Talking Barbie – 1968 (already discussed on this blog)
Another recent achievement by Barbie – which was not discussed by Mattel? This year, she won a prestigious TOADY award! Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader won the Worst Toy of the Year Award – handed to her by the CCFC, the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood. Read more about it here.
According to this story on NPR, Mattel recently opened a six-story Barbie flagship store in Shanghai, China, called “House of Barbie”. In addition to building custom-made Barbie dolls, customers can also get beauty treatments like facials, and indulge in Barbie-inspired cocktail drinks with clever names such as Barbietini, Glamourpolitan, and Pink-Me-Up. (Older customers, one hopes).
Barbie is known for being yellow-haired and blue-eyed, and thus, unless you have severe myopia, she looks antithetical to every woman born in the world’s highest populated country (1.3 billion strong). So Mattel wisely created a special Barbie for the occasion, with “pan-Asian likeness.” (Never mind that 99% of the dolls and artwork in the store show the classic blonde Barbie look). We don’t care. We wanna shooooop!
Now, I truly hope there has been a mistake and this is not the close-up of the so-called “Pan Asian Barbie”:
Because her eyes don’t look the least bit Chinese. Well, unless Mattel was sneakily suggesting that Chinese women should get eyelid surgery to “open up” their eyes and look more like Caucasian women. But nooooooooo. That couldn’t be! You can just imagine Barbie saying, “Little Chinese girl: you look nothing like me! How come?”
At any rate, NPR reports:
The lure of the China market was one reason that Mattel chose Shanghai for its first House of Barbie. It’s aggressively pursuing developing markets, such as Eastern Europe, Russia and India, which aren’t already Barbie-saturated. But when deciding where to place the House of Barbie, Shanghai beat other contenders — including London, Paris, Milan, New York and Los Angeles — because of its strong cross-generation reaction to the doll and the brand.
“There was an amazing connection to Barbie’s values,”
What? Shopping? The love for the color pink? The pursuit of a size 00 with D cup breasts?
Dickson said. “Barbie in this culture represented a world of possibilities for girls and for women. She’s had amazing careers, she has the cars, she has the plane, she has the boyfriend — and she looks fantastic doing it.”
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Ok, ok. I understand. You need to work your butt off trying to become a president, an astronaut or a doctor, but you better look perfect doing it! Otherwise something’s missing.
As it is illustrated in this old Barbie ad:
Perfectionism (looks, career, personal life) = most potent weapon used against girls & women, as it sets them up for a life of dissatisfaction and craving.
Chinese girls – now, you can do it too! BDD and all! Yay!
Now, for the mommies out there, I highly recommend reading this report by Girls Inc., called the “Supergirl Dilemma.”
Girls say they are under a great deal of stress today. Three-quarters (74%) of girls in grades 9-12, over half of girls (56%) in grades 6-8, and just under half of girls (46%) in grades 3-5 say they often feel stressed (describes them “somewhat” or “a lot”).
When girls get caught up in the quest to be “supergirls,” they are less likely to feel confident in themselves and celebrate what truly makes them amazing. As adults who care about girls, it’s up to us to help girls confront the pressure they feel to be perfect.
Toy company Mattel is revamping the online presence for its popular brands — including the iconic Barbie and, for boys, Hot Wheels — with expanded playable, customization and networking features on the new Mattel Digital Network.
And the upgrade will help Mattel keep pace with its competition online. Other brands such as Disney, LEGO and Hasbro have added features that aim to keep children connected with their sites — and products.
“There is a battle is for kids’ eyes on the computer,” says Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children’s Technology Review (childrenssoftware.com). These days, companies need “a smart strategy behind their toys that does things like keep track of a child’s age and recommend or suggest (products), whether obviously or subliminally.”
Parents should know that such sites merge content and advertising, Buckleitner says. “I don’t think these things are necessarily bad, and a lot of learning can go on. But we have to be smart so we can tell the difference between manipulation and play.”
There’s an eager, youthful clientele on the Web. Three-fourths of children 2 to 14 use a computer, according to The NPD Group’s report Kids & Digital Content III, which found that computers are the most widely used consumer electronic device among children. Cellphones, MP3 players and game systems are next.
I’m currently re-reading Margo Maine’s excellent book “Body Wars” – to add useful information to my documentary script.
In the chapter “Barbie Dolls & Body Image” Ms. Maine writes about the group Barbie Liberation Organization:
One group, the Barbie Liberation Organization, formed by a graduate student from the University of California at San Diego, went so far as to swap the speech mechanisms of the Talking Barbies with those of G.I. Joes, causing havoc for the toy stores that received the tampered merchandise. The Talking Barbies were saying things like, “Vengeance is mine,” while the G.I. Joes were saying, “Let’s go shopping.” This political art expresses the distress many feel about the status of women in our society and the symbols that threaten the self-esteem of females.
A couple of years ago Peggy Orenstein wrote an article for the New York Times magazine entitled “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” about the rise of the Disney Princess line of toys. It left an indelible impression on my mind, long before I started to work on this film. A must read for mothers, grandmothers, and anyone who is going to raise a girl.
There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girls’ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception. What’s more, the 23 percent decline in girls’ participation in sports and other vigorous activity between middle and high school has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine. And in a survey released last October by Girls Inc., school-age girls overwhelmingly reported a paralyzing pressure to be “perfect”: not only to get straight A’s and be the student-body president, editor of the newspaper and captain of the swim team but also to be “kind and caring,” “please everyone, be very thin and dress right.” Give those girls a pumpkin and a glass slipper and they’d be in business.