Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Playing with Barbies only skewed my body image as much as everything else in this world
Barbies. My sister and I had a shit-ton of Barbies growing up. My mom passed on some of her old dolls, and it was a treat for us to get new ones for every birthday/Christmas/visit to Grandma's/whenever we saved up enough allowance to go to Toys R Us, etc. My grandpa built us some sweet wooden houses and furniture that are way classier than any plastic shit Mattel has ever manufactured. My sister's house even had removable walls! My mom decorated them with contact paper and felt. We had three cars and boxes full of Barbie clothes. We had a room in our house that was the sewing/Barbie room. It was ridiculous. And when I say "Barbies," I don't mean we had three or four dozen matching blonde ladies--no, I mean we had plenty of those, but also tons of Skippers, Courtneys, Kens, Kevins, Stacies, Midges, Todds, Alans, a random assortment of black Barbies, the Hart Family, an Asian one named "Kira" or something, a Claudia from the Baby-Sitters' Club doll, an Ariel/Little Mermaid Barbie, a bunch of babies of various races, and most importantly: an Indiana Jones action figure neither whose existence nor our possession of it was ever fully explained to me, but whatevs. By the time we played with him, our Harrison Ford doll possessed khaki pants, an awesome leather jacket, no shirt or shoes, a ridiculous tan, and could kick Ken's ass (and not really fit into his clothes very well).
So, Barbies. I mostly enjoyed choosing their clothes and setting up their houses. Sure, there were often emotional romantic sagas and complex family dramas, but by the time I was 12 or so, it was all about the aesthetics and very little about the "make-believe." But I never really wanted to be Barbie herself. Barbie was too old, her boobs were too big, I couldn't relate. I mostly preferred to create my own teen dramas with Skipper and all her friends. I had one Skipper (I actually think that one belonged to my sister) that I spent inordinate amounts of time dressing like Melissa Joan Hart on Clarissa Explains It All. It was pretty easy considering that most Barbie clothes are ridiculous and not something real people would ever wear. That was another creative challenge, trying to make the Barbies look normal. There were never enough pants to go around what with all the ball gowns and bikinis, but luckily my mom made us Barbie clothes, so we could fill in some of the wardrobe gaps. My brother would play with my sister and me on Sunday afternoons when we weren't allowed to play with our friends. We had some crazy adventures with those dolls.
So anyway, this post doesn't really have much of a point beyond reminiscing about Barbies. I mean, I was kind of inundated with the "girl" stuff growing up, but luckily my cynicism kept me from taking it too seriously. And I'd definitely encourage all kids (regardless of gender) to play with dolls. It's fun. And how else are the older kids going to tell them about sex without visual aids? Doll play promotes creativity and helps them explore interpersonal relationships. Or they could just make a big string of rubber bands, hang it from the ceiling, and make the Barbies "bungee jump" by their necks. Not that my brother ever did that.
UPDATE: I forgot to link to this story at Jezebel about how worldwide Barbie sales are down. NOTE TO THE CHILDREN OF TODAY/THE FUTURE: get off your fucking computer and take your Barbies on a camping trip outside. Seriously. Best idea ever. Helps if you have a Barbie camping set that has a bunch of pieces you lost, but then you use the remaining tent poles to build Barbie gymnastics equipment later, so it's all good anyway.