Book Review: Dream Doll

Dream Doll, The Ruth Handler Story is an Autobiography. Ruth Handler is the woman behind the Barbie Doll. What makes this book review a little different, and I hope a bit more interesting, is that I decided that instead of telling you what I thought about the book, that I would instead tell you what Ruth thought about Barbie:

“When we began sculpting Barbie’s face, I insisted it not be too pretty or contain too much personality. I was concerned that if she had too much personality, a little girl might have trouble projecting her own personality on the doll, that she would not be as free to role play or fantasize through Barbie.”

“Unlike play with a baby doll – in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy – Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices.

“Beginning as early as September 1959, we received hundreds of letters from little girls begging us to make a boyfriend for Barbie. we were scared to death of boy dolls, and so was the rest of the toy trade. Boy dolls had been tried in our industry dozens of times and they’d always flopped.”

vintage-skipper-dolls

Original Skipper Dolls

“In 1964 we also introduced Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. While little girls tended to perceive Barbie as being six or seven years older than themselves, they saw Skipper as close to their own age.”

“In 1967…we brought out a Black version of Francie. …It was a dud….Was America not ready for a Black fashion doll? …research soon told us. Francie’s looks and personality were already well established in our young consumer’s minds – to them a Black Francie wasn’t Francie. The next year, having learned our lesson we brought out a completely new Black doll, Christie, and she was overwhelmingly accepted. In fact Christie stayed in the Barbie line for 17 years, till 1985.”

That’s all for this post… I only quoted some of the Barbie and other doll stuff… remember, the book is ruth Handler’s autobiography… it’s not just about Barbie or Mattel.

Bild Lilli and Barbie Dolls

Bild Lilli

Bild Lilli

a Bild Lilli Cartoon - can you see how she might have become Barbie?

a Bild Lilli Cartoon – can you see how she might have become Barbie?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It makes me sad when I read about folks using political correctness and/or feminism to bash children’s dolls; most often it seems, Barbie dolls.

Her measurements and makeup are usually the prime focus of the bashing, although she has also been used to bash consumerism, the environment, career vs stay-at-home mom choices, sexualization, racism and a host of other issues.

I know  that no simple post of mine is going to change anybody’s mind, but I hope that a little historical perspective may offer some comfort to mothers who are feeling guilty or influenced by this Politically Correct stuff.

In the years just after World War II, Germany was in pretty bad shape. Pardon my language, but they had just had the crap beat out of them. Into this darkness came a little ray of sunshine called Bild Lilli. Lilli started her life as a cartoon character, a brassy, sexy beautiful blond who wanted to put the misery of the war behind her and meet a man… preferably a rich man. Germany loved her.

And as often happens, this popular Lilli ‘character’ soon became a doll. The doll had the same ‘personality’ as the cartoon character, brassy, sexy and fun-loving. “Live for today for who knows what tomorrow may bring.” The perfect character for the the place and the times.

At that time in America most dolls for children were either baby dolls or toddler dolls… there were no adult dolls. When an American tourist named Ruth Handler saw Lilli dolls in a shop window, she immediately bought one for her doll-loving daughter, and a few extras to show to her husband, one of the founders of the Mattel Toy company. Ruth thought that there might be a market for a doll like Bild Lilli. Something different than a baby doll. It took her three years to do it, but she finally convinced her husband – and Barbie Dolls were born.

But of all the ways Barbie was like Lillie, in the most important way she was not: Lilli was a character – a woman who was frank, and adult, and had a well recognized personality. Barbie was not. Barbie was just a doll, woman shaped, with different outfits. A new toy for children to play with.

I think it’s pretty funny actually… how the circle turns, and how adults today have projected all these negative sexual characteristics onto Barbie. Bild Lillie was proud of her sexuality, but Barbie, as envisioned by Ruth 50 years ago, was as far from that as she could get! Somewhere in toy heaven, Bild Lilli must be laughing her ass off.