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A Girl's Best Friend: Barbie by Mattel
I am sure nearly every woman at least in the USA, maybe Germany also, can identify with the world's most famous girl, Barbie. Even today, Barbie remains one of Mattel Toys most profitable doll for girls. Many women will claim that the doll is sexist because of her near perfect feminine shape-hey, guys won't complain. They complain that it stereotypes women into sex objects and unrealistic reality, since most women do not have a Barbie shape. So, they think that Barbie had to be designed by a man. Wrong. Well, technically wrong.
Barbie by Mattel is a product of German born Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel.Barbie debuted in the US market on March, 1959. Ruth, a mother to a young girl, noticed that most of the dolls for girls of school age were babies or paper made, that triggered an idea to fill a gap in the market. It was during a vacation in Germany she came across a German doll called Bild Lilli (Picture Lilli) in 1956, bought three of them and gave one to her young daughter, who loved it. Bild Lilli was not your typical doll. She had a great figure and in Germany, the target audience were adults. No it was not a sex toy.
Bild Lilli started as a cartoon strip in a German newspaper, years earlier and the theme and content was sassy humor. It was clear that Lilli had a mind of her own and was not afraid of men. Lilli first sold in Germany in 1955 and even though it was for adults, girls seem to end up with it. She had special clothes to dress and wear, over 130,000 were sold.
Lilli was available in two different sizes. She held three patents absolutely new in doll-making: The head wasn't connected to the neck, the hair wasn't rooted but a cut-out scalp that was attached by a hidden metal screw, and the legs didn't sprawl open when she was sitting. Her limbs were attached inside by coated rubber bands. In 1955 the dolls cost 12 Marks. German office workers then had a monthly salary of approximately 200 to 300 Mark. By 1958, a German movie was completed with girl playing the main role.
Ruth altered the Lilli figure and changed her basic look and named her after her daughter, Barbara. The first Barbie doll wore a black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature ponytail and was available as either blonde or brunette. Made in Japan, over 350,000 were sold the first year. Television played a heavy role in Barbie's marketing, in fact, TV made Barbie what it is. Kids watching Howdy Dowdy, Micky Mouse, Rin-Tin-Tin, Leave it to Beaver, Denace the Menace, saw the ads and girls loved the clothes and her grown up appearance. Many parents thought Barbie's full curvy figure was too much, yet, under pressure from their daughters, bought them.
Soon, there was a guy doll, Ken. Named by Ruth after her son. Today, there are Barbies in just about every girl's closet. It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.
Barbie's appeal is for certain girls, not every girl likes them. Many girls prefer the Bratz, which are sort of the "bad" girls or because they are more ethnic in look. Regardless, there Barbie movies, books, songs today and yet, it all started with Lilli and Ruth's daughter complaining about playing with baby dolls. Go figure.