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!

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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.

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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)

And a spot-on, biting parody of Barbie dolls from the Simpsons (via Jezebel.com):

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Lisa, you rock 🙂

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.