Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Lilli, the German Adult-Themed Cartoon Character Who Became the Barbie Doll (messynessychic.com)
226 points by apo on Jan 30, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

In defence of Barbie, that waist is at least partially utilitarian. It's there to hold the cloths on. Dresses would fall off a more human figure as soon as the kid turned it upside down. It's an answer to the interesting design challenge of trying to scale clothing down to doll proportions without resorting to paper-thin microcloth.

Also, the argument that Barbie isn't realistic doesn't make much sense. We exaggerate almost everything for kids to make it easier for them to understand. E.g. moms speak to their kids in what academics call 'motherese', to make it easier for them to pick up on the syllables. Kids get dressed in gaudy colors that would look ridiculous on adults. And they get fed foods with super exaggerated flavor profiles, e.g. ketchup. All of this is because children's senses are still developing.

So I don't see why it's surprising that popular children's toys would represent sort of the platonic ideal of the human form. In reality most people's calves and hips do flare out to some extent, so it makes sense that those sorts of features would be accentuated when reduced to toy form.

The effectiveness of motherese is a matter of debate, since it is not a cultural universal. There is a lot of cultural variation with the other simplifications for children that you mentioned.


His point doesn't rely on it being effective. He's just pointing out that it's a widespread part of culture.

It works for dogs too. Universally, a slightly higher pitch is used when talking to puppies. The dogs learn that higher pitch is for them an so pay more attention when hearing it.

Do you mean when we speak with them, or parent dogs "talking" to their puppies?

On the recorded lectures from Robert Sapolsky, he talks about motherese being both about teaching language and expressing emotion. The aspect of language is absent when people "talk" to their pets.


Also, my Max Steel dolls were completely unrealistic but I wouldn't have liked it if they were made to look like a typical american male.

Your child should have only a cube, a tetrahedron and an icosahedron to play with, if we're talking platonic ideals, and dodecahedra are way out.

Agree on your points about exaggerated stuff for kids, but...

> And they get fed foods with super exaggerated flavor profiles, e.g. ketchup

What? Since when is ketchup a kids food? That's a pretty widely popular condiment among all ages.

Most people whose eating habits I've observed over a long period (i.e. my family) use it much less as adults than they did as children. When I was young I dutifully glopped it onto all the traditional foods. Now it seems kind of gross: cloying sweetness with a hint of tomato sauce, and it kind of smells like cough syrup. Sweet is fine, and tomato sauce is fine, in the right dish. Neither of those flavors are appealing straight out of a medicine bottle. All the kids I know consume mass quantities, but most adults have more sophisticated taste.

Kids use it more sure, but most adults still eat ketchup, just on certain dishes like fries for example. That children over do something doesn't make it a child's food.

The (amusing in its existence) lobbying group for the hot dog industry agrees (scroll down a bit or just search for ketchup)


Well it counts as a vegetable in school lunches....

> [ketchup] counts as a vegetable in school lunches...

That is a myth. The truth is fairly complex but boils down to that one agency briefly proposed adopting rules that might if adopted have allowed things like pickle relish to "count as a vegetable" in certain contexts.

Ketchup was not explicitly listed in the proposed rule and the rule never took effect so we'll never know how local authorities might have used that bit of new flexibility.

TL;DR: Ketchup has never counted as a vegetable. (Salsa, on the other hand...)

More here:



As an adult who loves dressing with vibrant colours, I wonder if I'm still developing my senses or just look ridiculous!

So we exaggerate female proportions so that girls understand how they should look?

We exaggerate female proportions so that they are better recognized as female by children. This is true of cartoons (barbie is essentially a cartoon person) TV, film, advertising, even music. When you want to sell something to a group you adopt an image which leaves little room for debate.

This holds true for male dolls too. I saw a great interview with Mark Hamel once about the evolution of Luke Skywalker dolls, which are now more WWE than a realistic portrayal of his character.

I wouldn't say that we exaggerate, we give recognizable symbols. For example, in many cartoons, female cartoon characters have eyelashes drawn on their eyes to distinguish them as females, children and adults alike. Now this actually makes no sense because men naturally have thicker eyelashes, and what those eyes were originally supposed to represent were mascara, but then it caught on as a recognizable symbol for being female, despite having no basis in reality. And it's crazy how effective it none the less is.

The eyelash thing is part of the larger phenomena of cuteness. Mammals, be them human babies or puppies, have larger eyes in relation to their heads. It's one of the things that identifies them as young. Women use makeup to draw attention to their eyes, to make them appear bigger and therefore more youthful. So while men may have thicker eyelashes, it is women who generally accentuate their eyelashes, resulting in the social convention that any cartoon with drawn eyelashes is female.

Look at the animation in Archer. Lana and Archer both have thick eyebrows, but Archer doesn't have any eyelashes.

For more on this (and it's a bit creepy, btw... yay, biology!), google "Neoteny"

Well yeah, I wasn't trying to claim it came out of nowhere. Just that the convention broadened to such a degree that it didn't make sense anymore, but we still understand it because humans are all about symbols.

We for sure don't feed kids corn syrup and dress them ridiculously because their senses are still developing.

Would clothes fall off a Barbie doll if you flipped it upside down? Do they fall off of Ken? I find that argument highly questionable.

> We for sure don't feed kids corn syrup and dress them ridiculously because their senses are still developing.



> We for sure don't feed kids corn syrup and dress them ridiculously because their senses are still developing.

In some senses, yes, we do. Children often like brightly colored clothes (and objects in general), or clothes with large, obvious representations of things they like.

Foods with strong uncomplicated flavor profiles also go over well. Mac & Cheese, Chicken tenders, etc.

Ken wears pants

But what if ken wants to wear a dress?

Or a kilt?

Or a sporran. I'd like to see them make a leather strap that size that can be tightened but not break, and still not fall off.

Not to mention the size of stitches and seams will be greatly magnified on a very small clothing mannequin (which is what Barbie is ultimately -- it's all about the outfits). This means that places where the clothing should hang and flow also have to be exaggerated, so the tiny waist makes sense.

And any fasteners are ridiculously oversized so they can be handled by human fingers.

Especially tiny human fingers.

The article says that Barbie copied its figure from an scort doll. And it is from there that it got its figure. Or maybe I missunderstood the title, the article and the pictures.

GI Joe dolls have clothes and the physique of a refrigerator.

"Call Girl" appears to be a complete fabrication. Gold digger? Sure. Sex worker? Hardly. None of the cartoons indicate that Lilli is a prostitute. Even the Wikipedia page says she's a secretary.

Ok, we replaced "High-end German Call Girl" with "German cartoon character", which seems factual enough. If anyone can suggest a better (i.e. more accurate and neutral) title, we can change it again.

I'd call it a "German adult themed cartoon character" or similar.

The story used to be notable because it's a bit bizarre that a popular kid's toy was a carbon copy of a highly sexual cartoon character aimed at adults.

If a popular kid's toy were merely a carbon copy of an existing German cartoon character, alone, it would not really be notable at all.

I appreciate the sensitivity around putting labels on the character, especially on a professional setting such as HN, but it's a detail important to the story.

Maybe and maybe not. Many cartoons' were made for an adult audience even if now they are watched by children. This is also seen in movies like Shrek. They have a two pronged approach at one level they are childish but at another they are adult-themed.

This one is not that different from Betty Boop. Many movies and cartoons had both childish and adult themes intermixed before the Hayes moral code kicked in.

Not quite a carbon copy - they whitewashed her, which is ironic for a product taken from post war Germany - not Aryan enough for Mattel.

Ok, we added "adult-themed".

A comment thread where they translate some of the comics -


So, basically, Mattel owes a large part of its fortune to the non-existence of IP laws?

The article states that Mattel bought the rights to the doll.

debuted Barbie at the New York toy fair on March 9, 1959

acquired the rights to Bild Lilli in 1964

I'm not sure IP laws stop you making a doll that looks a bit like another doll.

There was that Mattel lawsuit over the 'Bratz' doll rights. It resulted in a huge judgement that was later overturned, IIRC.

EDIT: I suppose I should mention that there were some issues resulting from the guy who made them changing jobs as well, but still, it's not too far outside that realm.

I think Mattel vs Bratz was mostly about the Bratz guy having been employed by Mattel when he had the idea rather than Bratz being similar to other dolls.

You're right, but it wouldn't have happened but for the idea that you can own ideas about dolls in the first place (i.e. I believe it was related to IP assignment clauses in the contract).

a bit is a bit of an understatement though.

I guess that's why they bought Bild Lilli.

This calls for a stirring rendition of "Barbie Girl"... oh wait, nevermind.

Wow. Anyone who thinks Barbie isn't the best role model, or that she pushes an unrealistic image on young girls, read this link I found at the bottom of the OP.


I don't see what's wrong with that. Girls are often worried by the changes that they go through during puberty (especially when they are the first among their friends to go through them), I suppose that doll could help.

The post calls that doll "perverted", but I would rather apply that adjective to the people that think the doll is perverted...

Like everything else, Barbie has evolved. There's a new Barbie line called Careers which includes Barbie as a startup founder, doctor, teacher, opthamologist, engineer, and even president. Barbie Careers dolls aren't all caucasian either.


I cant see this as evolution, because its still going on the same direction, only more adequated to the modern times.

It still force's the goal of beauty, success, fame, prestige, money.. far from the reality of life of most people in the world. There isnt a "chubby barbie" for instance.. its natural in kids to be happy with whatever/whoever they are, thats whats awesome in kids.

The only way to advance, evolve in this matter, is propably a reality where kids dont care about barbie anymore, and instead of impossible role models, they would choose something else, probably something where they are the ones creating and doing stuff, and not a external role-model of what they are supposed to be when they grow up, that can be the cause of a lot of frustration and impossibility to have a dialetic relation with their own reality, and try to improve it as a result.

Except that when you talk to young people these days Barbie really is the dream. Ask the average highschool student whether they would rather be a doctor or an American Idol winner, astronaut or covergirl. The last study I read listed "paris hilton's personal assistant" over being state governor. For boys, sitcom actor now trumps fighter pilot. Becoming barbie/ken is their american dream.

> It still force's the goal of beauty, success, fame, prestige, money.. far from the reality of life of most people in the world.

Is it horrible for little girls to aspire to something more than the life that they were born into? In many parts of the world, women aren't even allowed to drive. Should Barbie just reflect the status quo? I don't see anything wrong with showing little girls that it's possible for them to one day become an astronaut or President of the United States. School teacher or veterinarian Barbie is also a huge improvement over housewife or fashion model Barbie. I would call that evolution.

> There isnt a "chubby barbie" for instance.

Wouldn't an overweight Barbie be promoting an unhealthy lifestyle?

It's certainly weird, but what is so terrible about it?

Does anyone else get an icky feeling from looking at cartoons from a late-1940s German newspaper? Entertainment for people of a country that only 5 years ago at the time was ushering millions into forced labor and gas chambers.

How do you feel reading the papers today?

Pretty good. The only countries that seem to be doing the same today are North Korea and, to some extent, ISIS. Neither are from our culture so our ability to exert change is limited.

"Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America."

Relevant chart: http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21647347-treatin...

The US prisson system comes to mind ... completely ridiculous comparison, I know

The difference is that post-war Germany was very much confronted with the gravity of what Nazi-Germany had done.

The US hasn't had that in more than 100 years.

The irony is, germany was controlled by the allies then, including the US, the ones whose population you just called ignorant, that watches movies about prostitutes' escapedes or war glorification.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact