Barbie’s Predecessor Was a Businesswoman, Not a Prostitute Doll

Bild Lilli was a perfectly respectable post-WWII newspaper comics character, albeit one that debuted in the Bild Zeitung, a West German equivalent of the UK’s tabloid, the Sun. She was a feisty, sassy 50’s bombshell, but she worked on the clerical side of a newspaper office (presumably the Bild‘s) and didn’t do anything worse than talk about wanting to marry a man who was well-off.

But it was feminists who described her as a “sex doll,” when it came to describing the origins of Barbie.

Sigh. It’s not what you know that kills you; it’s what you know that’s not so.

(I guess this isn’t new news in the doll world, but I hadn’t heard it before, and neither had my mom, who watches all the talk shows and news shows.)

A good article on Bild-Lilli, with some pictures of what the cartoons looked like. (Sort of New Yorker-ish.) Even more Bild-Lilli.

The idea seems to have been that she was kind of like a Marilyn Monroe who snapped back like a Brooklyn girl (or in her case, a country German girl who took no nonsense). The subtext for Germans was that she was part of the new generation who weren’t “rubble women” who’d starved, lost relatives, and often had been raped. She had the heart to banter. She demanded to be treated well and taken out to nice places. If not, she didn’t have time to go out with you. She wanted to marry somebody who was established in his career — not somebody who couldn’t afford little elegances, much less a wife (and kids). She has standards.

They made a 1958 comedy movie of her (Lilli – Ein Maedchen aus der Grosstadt) where she moves up to become a reporter, like Stella Dallas and other drama comics characters of the time. But she doesn’t have time to angst about her love life, like most of them. She’s more like a heroine in Steve Canyon. (And come to think of it, the early Bild Lilli art does look something like it’s from Terry and the Pirates.) While reporting on a missionary gathering, she discovers a criminal conspiracy, and wades in with jiujitsu action and gunplay. She even gets to rescue a tied-up man!

Does Barbie get to fire guns and flip guys with martial arts? Even in a noir parody sequence, much less a whole movie?

How this turns into “sex doll”, I don’t know.

1 Comment

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One response to “Barbie’s Predecessor Was a Businesswoman, Not a Prostitute Doll

  1. I think it’s just a mimetic morph– somebody made a rude observation meaning that she looks like a blow-up doll, and someone else took it as a factual observation instead of a stylistic one.

    (I vaguely remember some snark about her “ancestors” not being rag dollies, it was a blow up doll– can very easily see that being snapped up as a “fact,” kind of like the “daddy longlegs are the deadliest spider, but they can’t bite” fact. {yes, I know, ‘daddy longlegs’ is a wide group that includes things that aren’t even spiders, and most don’t even have venom from a human perspective.])

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