Simply the breast:
Ruth Handler's complicated legacy
Whether it’s fond reminders of your childhood or unhealthy, unrealistic expectations of women, the name “Barbie” makes you feel something when you hear it. “Ruth Handler” on the other hand, probably makes you shrug.
Ruth Handler is the person who created Barbie (first sold in 1959) and co-founded the Mattel company that produces the toy. No matter what you think of the world’s best-selling doll ever, Handler’s story is a fascinating one. It includes being inspired in Germany by what some call a “sex doll,” showing skeptical 1950s businessmen the enormous value of women’s ideas, a criminal fraud conviction, and pioneering prosthetic breasts for breast cancer survivors.
breast – Busen
fond reminder – liebevolle Erinnerung
unrealistic expectations – unrealistische Erwartungen
makes sb. shrug – kann man nur mit den Schultern zucken
co-found – mitbegründen
toy – Spielzeug
best-selling – bestverkauft
enormous value – enormen Wert
fraud conviction – Verurteilung wegen Betrugs
pioneering prosthetic breasts – Vorreiter für Brustprothesen
A business-savvy child of immigrants
Born Ruth Moskowicz, Ruth’s parents were both eastern European, Jewish immigrants to the United States. Her mother’s health was so bad that Ruth was raised by a much older sister and her husband.
Nearing 20, Ruth found a job at an office in Hollywood at Paramount during a vacation. Her teenage sweetheart, Elliot Handler, followed her. After the two married, Ruth worked while Elliot attended a school for design.
Elliot made affordable furniture for the couple‘s house out of plastic, and Ruth encouraged him to make other household items to sell. Thanks largely to Ruth’s business sense, the two eventually sold $2 million worth of these products.
The couple later teamed up with Harold “Matt” Matson on a different business that started seeing big profits from creating miniature furniture for doll houses. That enterprise turned into the toy company Mattel, a combination of the name “Matt” and the “El” from Elliot.
Notably, no part of Ruth’s name was included.
business-savvy – Gespür für Geschäfte
be raised by – wurde erzogen von
teenage-sweetheart – Jugendliebe
attend school – Schule besuchen
affordable – erschwinglich
couple – Pärchen
largely to – weitgehend
business sense – Geschäftssinn
enterprise – Untenehmung
turn into – sich verwandeln
notably – auffallend ist hier
Dolls with chests
Ruth said she got the idea for Barbie after seeing her daughter play with paper dolls of adult women she’d cut out of magazines. At the time, all dolls in the U.S. looked like babies or children.
When she pitched Barbie to other decision-makers at Mattel, none of them believed in it. They were male and thought no mother would buy her daughter a doll with breasts. When the Handlers visited Europe on vacation in the 1950s, Ruth learned that they were wrong.
There she saw a doll called Lilli based on a cartoon character in Germany’s Bild newspaper. With a large chest, slim waist, and blond hair, the dolls were originally meant to be gag gifts men could buy for each other. However, they’d also caught the attention of young girls for use as toys – just as Ruth thought they would.
Armed with this proof-of-concept, Ruth got Mattel to produce a similar doll (so similar, in fact, that Bild filed a lawsuit against Mattel that the two businesses settled out of court), and the rest is toy-making history.
chest – Brust
to pitch – (Thema) aufwerfen
decision-makers – Entscheidungsträger
slim waist – schmale Taille
gag gifts– Scherzartikel Geschenk
catch (caught-caught) the attention – Aufmerksamkeit auf sich lenken
armed with – gewappnet mit
proof-of-concept – Wirksamkeitsnachweis
file a lawsuit – vor Gericht klagen
Indictments and prostheses
Thanks to Barbie, other hit toys, and innovative marketing spearheaded by Ruth, Mattel became a hugely successful business. However, not everything was perfect for the Handlers.
In the 70s, she and Elliot were indicted for falsifying sales records to make Mattel stock more valuable. Along with five years of probation, Ruth lost her position as Mattel’s president.
Around the same time, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. The experience made her a prominent advocate for breast cancer prevention measures at a time when talking about the disease publicly was taboo.
Additionally, she started a company called “Nearly Me” to make comfortable breast prostheses because she had found no great options during her own search for them. The business still exists and sells prostheses, swimwear, and bras for women who’ve had mastectomies.
Ruth died in 2002, leaving behind a mixed and controversial legacy in the world of femininity.
indictment – Anklage
prostheses – Prothese
spearheaded by – eingeführt von
indicted for falsifying sales records – angeklagt für die Fälschung von Umsatzrekorden
valuable – wertvoll
probation – Bewährung
mastectomy – Brustamputation
advocate – Befürworter
breast cancer – Brustkrebs
prevention measures – Präventionsmaßnahmen
disease – Krankheit
taboo – Tabu
bra – BH
legacy – Erbe
femininity – Fraulichkeit