Archive for December 5th, 2010

I could do without balding old men but my budget couldn’t! –  Lilli

When she first appeared on June 24th, 1952, Barbra Millicent Roberts was called “Lilli” and worked in Germany as a secretary who had no compunction against using her pronounced charms to get money and presents from rich men; by 1955 she had become a full-fledged doxy and made a tremendous amount of money from gentlemen admirers.  She soon became well-known and popular in sexually-liberated Germany, and though her advertising said she was “always discreet,” her wardrobe made her “the star of every bar” and little girls came to idolize her despite the objections of their prudish parents.  Then in 1959, an American businesswoman convinced her that if she came to the US she could be a star; she commuted back and forth to Germany until 1964, when she gave up sex work for good and moved permanently to the US.  Since then, she has worked as a fashion model (and more recently an actress) as famous for her imagination and extensive wardrobe as for her stunning figure, and though her beginnings as a whore still provoke controversy among the easily provoked she is beloved of millions of little girls who know her by her nickname:  Barbie.

The iconic doll started out as a cartoon character named Lilli created by Reinhard Beuthien for the Bild-Zeitung tabloid  newspaper in Hamburg, Germany.  She was a clever, sexually liberated “party girl” and proved so popular that in 1953 the Bild-Zeitung decided to market a Lilli doll.  Max Weissbrodt of the German toy company O&M Hausser designed the doll from Beuthien’s drawings, and she went on sale in 1955.  Lilli was advertised as a doxy (i.e. an escort-level prostitute) and sold in bars, tobacco shops and similar adult businesses as a gag gift for men.  But despite the protests of prudes who felt she was inappropriate for children, some mothers did indeed buy Lilli dolls for their daughters and she soon became as popular a children’s toy as she had been a novelty gift.  Other toy companies capitalized on her popularity by selling clothes, furniture and other accessories in her size, and both Lilli and her accessories were marketed in Italy, Scandinavia and even the United States.  She became such a celebrity that in 1958 a movie entitled Lilli – ein Mädchen aus der Großstadt (“Lilli — a Girl from the Big City”) was made about her; its star, Ann Smyrner, was chosen via a contest in the Bild-Zeitung.

Lilli’s name was also applied to such products as perfume, wine and costume jewelry, but her popularity faded with the decade; the last Lilli cartoon appeared on January 5, 1961 and the American rights to the doll were purchased by the toy giant Louis Marx and Company, who began marketing her in the US as “Miss Seventeen” in 1961.  But several years earlier (1956, to be exact) Ruth Handler, one of the founders of the Mattel toy company, had bought three Lilli dolls while in Europe; she changed the doll’s design slightly, giving her rooted hair and bare feet (rather than molded shoes) and renamed her Barbie after her daughter.  The Mattel version made her debut at the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, a date now used as Barbie’s official birthday.  She was an overnight success, selling 350,000 units by the end of the first year; by the time Marx released its version of Lilli two years later Barbie was so well-established Marx was perceived as the imitator rather than vice-versa.  Marx tried to sue Mattel for patent infringement, but the suit failed and Mattel acquired all rights to Lilli in 1964, at which time German production ceased.

According to Mattel, Barbie’s full name is Barbra Millicent Roberts; in a series of juvenile novels published in the 1960s, her parents were named George and Margaret Roberts and she lived in the fictional Willows, Wisconsin.  Her social circle has included her androgynous boyfriend Ken, her teenage sister Skipper, her friends Kelly, Krissy, Francie, Midge, the twins Stacie and Todd, black couple Christie and Steven and the Hispanic Teresa.  She has had several dozen different pets, a large number of vehicles and careers ranging from model to stewardess to astronaut.  In recent years, a computer-animated Barbie has appeared in a number of videos, mostly based on fairy tales.

But like any attractive woman who dares to be sexual, Barbie has inflamed the passions of losers everywhere.  People with a lot of free time and more math skills than sense have published complicated calculations showing that at 1/6 scale, Barbie would be 5’9” tall, with measurements of 36”-18”-33” and a weight of 110#.  University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland actually announced that Barbie lacks the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate; it’s good to know that the Finns are so healthy that University Hospital has nothing more important to do than speculate on the menstrual irregularities of plastic dolls.  Most of this nonsense is based on the ludicrous notion that little girls have such a highly-developed sense of proportion that they can actually perform these ratios in their little heads without the help of calculators, neofeminists or bored Finnish doctors.  And that, in the words of the late, great Douglas Adams, is a load of dingo’s kidneys.  The smaller a representation of the human figure, the more exaggerated its proportions can be without looking abnormal; when the cumbersomely-named “Happy To Be Me” doll was released in 1991, feminists applauded and little girls collectively shrugged; to anyone without a tape-measure, a calculator and an agenda, they don’t look all that different in clothes.  Then the following year, middle-class feminists with no actual problems started spinning their heads around and foaming at the mouth because ONE of the 270 possible phrases “Teen Talk Barbie” might say was “Math class is tough!”  Apparently, these women were concerned that the phrase would magically leach math skills from the brains of young girls and thereby render them unable to calculate the proportions and body mass index of dolls.

The neofeminists’ real problem with Barbie has nothing to do with her figure or academic credentials; they hate her because she is unashamedly sexual, just as they hate all women who are unashamedly sexual.  The campaign to suppress or neuter Barbie derives from the same repressions and insecurities as the campaign to ban porn and abolish prostitution; neofeminists are uncomfortable with any sexual depiction or function of women, even tiny plastic women.  The oft-repeated rhetoric that Barbie “causes little girls to develop unrealistic expectations” (one wonders what caused those same unrealistic expectations in the millennia preceding 1959, but we’ll let that go for now) is a cover for their real fear, that Barbie might help young girls to see themselves as sexual beings rather than androgynous eunuchs.  Child cultists worry about sex rays emanating from any adult who is not completely asexual,  but neofeminists worry about sex rays emanating from hunks of plastic instead.  Note how often the tempests-in-teapots surrounding Barbie are sexual in nature; for example, a Barbie dressed as the superheroine Black Canary was attacked by fundies and neofeminists alike as “dominatrix Barbie”, and alarmists in high places claim the new “video girl Barbie” could help those omnipresent “pedophiles” to make child porn.  Shades of Melissa Petro!  Just because she was a hooker in her youth, the lunatics want to brand poor Barbie as a kiddie-porn producer.  My Barbie certainly would never have done anything like that; besides, she was too busy travelling to other planets, spying on the Russians and ditching wimpy Ken to date my brother’s G.I. Joe.

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