The proto-Barbie was just shy of a foot tall, with bulging breasts and a platinum-blonde ponytail, made up for a night on the town with red puckered lips and blue eye shadow. Although Barbie’s curvy proportions are modeled after Lilli’s, the German doll’s heavy makeup and suggestively arched eyebrows didn’t carry over to the American version. The dolls also have tellingly different feet, according to M.G. Lord, the author of Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll.
In the comics, Lilli was witty, irreverent and sexually uninhibited. One strip, summarized by Lord, shows Lilli covering her naked body with a newspaper and explaining to a friend, “We had a fight and he took back all the presents he gave me.” Another shows Lilli in a bikini; when a policeman tells her that two-piece swimsuits are illegal, she says, “Oh, and in your opinion, which part should I take off?”
Nonetheless, Lilli dolls were soon coveted by children as well as adults. They caught the eye of 15-year-old Barbara Handler on a 1956 vacation in Switzerland with her mother, Ruth — a co-founder of the Mattel toy company.