Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I'm a Barbie Woman

In chapter 6 of At Home in the World, writer Joyce Maynard says, "I am less mature than most eighteen-year-olds. It is just a few years since I put away my Barbies."

Ladies and gentlemen, I have never put away my Barbies.

In my experience, Barbie is an unfairly-maligned toy. I played with the 11 1/2" buxom blond bombshell throughout my childhood and adored her all the way through my teen years and into my twenties, and my enjoyment of Barbie shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. I'm also happy with both my ethnic Mediterranean looks and my J.D., and am even making peace with my petite bosoms and, shall we say, "curvy" hips.

Now, I admit, when I was a little girl I sometimes longed to trade in my coarse dark curls for silky blond strands. Barbies of the 80's, unlike their predecessors, were almost universally blond. Like Farrah Fawcett. And Cheryl Tiegs. And Christie Brinkley. And Cybill Shepherd. And Loni Anderson. And Bo Derek. And the girls on The Brady Bunch. And that chick from Teen Wolf (see how I carefully tie my posts together by running continuous threads through them?). With a few exceptions, like Brooke Shields (who had her own doll!), brunettes were relegated to the supporting roles. We were Janet Woods to others' Chrissy Snows. Barbie wasn't nearly as much about setting the agenda as she was about reflecting it.

Barbie taught us that there will always be that busty blond chick, that skinny girl with no hips and great skin and perfect teeth, who gets all the attention. She forced us to make peace with this woman and to learn to coexist with her while still feeling good about ourselves. And occasionally manipulating her. ;)

My Barbies all had elaborate identities. They were Scandinavian and Californian and British and Russian. I named them Kiki and Elizabeth and Nicole and Marie and Jessamyn. (That's why it was important to have so many of them!) There was the allure of having this "grownup" doll to play with, instead of a baby doll. Trixie and Anastasia and Mallory would have incredible adventures. They were judges and dress designers and Olympic athletes and equestriennes. They would fly an airplane, or bravely battle leukemia, like the teenage daughter of our mother's friend that we heard discussed in hushed tones. They would help us make sense of the world. They were id and ego and superego. Sometimes, they were good women--pioneers, children's librarians. Sometimes, they were bad, slutty women, sharing a twin bed with Ken, who had snuck in through the window of the Dream House, when my own love life consisted of reading "fan fare" like River Phoenix: Hero and Heartthrob.*

All the men were named Ken. Just Ken. I had about seventeen Barbies, all with first and last names and personalities, and about two Kens, which, I have learned, is a pretty typical ratio. One Ken wore a white tuxedo; his job was to squire Barbie to formal events. The other Ken alternated between a bathing suit and a casual outfit consisting of pants and a coordinating button-down shirt. His job was to do whatever the tuxedo-clad Ken was dressed too formally to do. I would brush Barbie's hair, dress her, pick out shoes and put them on her, pose her on her own chaise lounge, her drink on a side table next to her. Ken would just stand there.

Now, we have Asian and Hispanic and African-American and redheaded and dark-haired Barbies. We have Salma Hayek and Pamela Anderson and Julianne Moore and J. Lo. Barbie evolves with the times. My mother and I sometimes go to Barbie shows and marvel at the variety, the fun, the detail, and the kitsch. We love it.

What do you think of Barbie?

*Yes, this was an actual book.

11 Comments:

Blogger mama_tulip said...

My interest in Barbie didn't last that long. I had Barbies -- not many, and no Ken's, and I had the giant yellow camper/bus/RV that she and her plastic friends could drive around in, but it was much more fun to play Barbies with someone else and I was an only child. My cousin, however, had tons of Barbies and Barbie gear and I *loved* playing them with her.

Barbie doesn't bother me. Yeah, she's "incorrect", but whatever. Not everything in life is.

8:45 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

One of my first posts was about Barbie and my first Barbie Dream House. I loved Barbie with every fiber of my being.

9:43 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

I never got into Barbie's but I think you are very brave and coming to terms with something to come out of the closet like you just did. Really.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

I am SO jealous Mama Tulip had that camper. I SO wanted that. I have the original Malibu Barbie that's at the top of your post. I also have her kid sis, Malibu Skipper.

Interesting note: when I was a kid, girls didn't get into Barbies until they were elementary school age. Now preschoolers play with them all the time. I didn't get Malibu Barbie until I was about 10. I had a faux Barbie and some hand-me-down Barbies that wore wigs before that.....

Little E-Grrrl has always been into baby dolls. She was loving baby dolls before she could walk! She's 8.5 now and got her first Barbie when she was about 6. She has more than one but they've never captured her imagination. She still loves her baby dolls and so does her older brother.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

I had the camper, I had the Corvette, and I desparately wanted, but did not have, the Dreamhouse. I made friends with girls in school purely to access their Dreamhouses.

Ken was pretty pointless, yeah. I had a Donny Osmond doll who was a rapist who lived in a cave, but plain old Ken was just there to be arm candy and to be made fun of for not having a dick.

I think I did OK despite the Barbie 'n' soap opera cocktail that was my young playtime life, but I'm still on the fence about whether I want my kids to play with them. In any case, they're less objectionable than those slutty Bratz dolls.

11:55 AM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

I never had many Barbies - actually, only one that I can remember and I gave her an Annie Lennox haircut - but I loved visiting friends who had the whole Barbie entourage.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

I never had any of the fancy Barbie clothes or accessories In fact, I may have only ever owned one or two real Barbies and I made my own Barbie clothes. I KNOW it's a sad story, isn't it? I always coveted all the fancy stuff my cousins and girlfriends had like the townhouse, the dog, the corvette and the plane so I whenever I would go to their houses all I ever wanted to do was play Barbies. I think they got sick of me after a while.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

I had Barbies. But they never held a candle to my Jem, SheRa, and 90210 dolls. Although I loved to play haircutter with them. :)

2:31 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

I had no Barbies. Zero. I hated Barbie because my big brothers told me to, and only got to play with their GI Joe's when they weren't around because I always made GI Joe and his African American partner in war play house and go on picnics.

The closest I got to dolls was Weeble Wobbles. My best friend Stacey had a canopy bed and a French Provincial bedroom set and a trunk full of Barbies, but whenever we went to her house all I wanted to do was play on the Sit'n'Spin.

I still shudder a little when I see Barbies and their perky boobs and Loni Anderson hair. But GI Joe? *growl*

3:16 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

I never really got into Barbie....the clothes were expensive, I lost her shoes and jewlery all the time and Ken was very boring....

I like how they have branched out with Barbie, but still she will always be associated, in my mind, with cheap plastic.

I hate Bratz though...I can say that they irk me everytime I see them....way to go with the plastic surgery overly made up tart look for young girls...

6:22 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I only had a few Barbies, I also had Teen Skipper-do you remember her? She had a flat chest until you rotated her arm and then little boobs popped out-no lie! I had the airplane, but what I really wanted was that two-story house with the working elevator.

My favorites though were the Sunshine Family. They were hippy dolls who drove a camper and had backpacking and camping accessories. I would love to buy them again but they cost a fortune on eBay.

8:43 PM  

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