Barbie & Me

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I recently read that the sales of Barbie dolls have been doing down over the last few years.  I’m not really surprised.  I believe that there are a combination of reasons this might be happening.

  1.  The economy sucks.  I know, I know, we keep hearing about how we’re doing so much better now but I think it’s just another lie from the Obama administration.  Frankly, any administration would probably lie about how bad it is, but let’s face it, it’s bad.  A lot of people just don’t have the extra cash to buy toys for their kids.
  2. Girls are growing up faster.  When I was a little girl it wasn’t uncommon for girls as old as 13 to still be playing with dolls.  Now, they’re done by 9, if not sooner.  And, since Barbie isn’t really appropriate for girls under 4, there’s a shorter and shorter window for Barbie sales.
  3. The campaign against Barbie by feminists and their allies.  Pink is fine as a color to be used for pink triangles for gay activists and for Code Pink protesters, but you can’t have pink aisles in the toy stores anymore.  Today’s moms get all in a tizzy about how Barbie’s unrealistic body shape may make their daughters feel bad about their bodies.  Barbie is a doll ladies!  Geez, she’s not meant to have the same body shape as a human any more than a teddy bear looks like a real bear!  They’re toys!  Get over yourselves!

I grew up playing with Barbie dolls and even as a young child I knew she wasn’t built like a real person, none of my dolls were and I didn’t expect them to be.  Once again, they’re toys!  Frankly, I respect Barbie’s tenacity.  She’s still hanging in there even after being mercilessly attacked just for being who she is.

I hate to admit it but I’m the same age as Barbie, and although I’d like to say I’ve had as much fun as she has over the last few decades if I did I’d be lying. I don’t know how she keeps looking so fresh and up-to-date. Her hair isn’t graying, nothing’s sagging and she still has that trim little waist. She’s as bonnie and beautiful as always, whilst I’ve had to gray, sag, and expand. There’s something not quite fair about that . . .

Anyway, while I was thinking about all of Barbie’s problems it occurred to me that it had been quite a while since I’ve had any interaction with Barbie and friends. Since my only child is a boy any toy aisle with pink in it hasn’t been a part of my life for years. Not to mention my friends have mostly boys, and my nieces, my last chance for Barbie buying, are all 20 years and older. Yep, it’s been a while since there’s been a Barbie at my house.

Now, I wasn’t a huge Barbie doll girl. I had a few, of course, but I don’t think I got my first one until I was about 7 years old. In those days Barbies weren’t intended for little girls. Their bodies were hard and it wasn’t easy trying to dress those stiff limbs. My friends always seemed to have better Barbies than me, and more interesting accessories.

I remember playing with the old cardboard Barbie houses. Now, those were pretty dated by the time I played with them, (late sixties). it was hard to get the dolls to sit in the cardboard chairs, (as their legs didn’t bend at all), but we could make them walk around and dance to those snazzy “Lettermen” albums. They could lie down really well but being kids we couldn’t figure out why if one was a swinging teenager one would ever lie down at all. I mean we didn’t want to go to bed and certainly when we were popular teenagers with cardboard furniture and “Lettermen” albums, heck, we wouldn’t go to bed at all.

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My best friend had the early sixties house pictured above. I thought it was simply the best thing ever but it never occurred to me to want one for myself. It must be the way I was raised because I rarely remember being jealous of other people’s stuff, I just figured that they had what they had and I had what I had and as long as we were having a good time and sharing, who cared? Besides my friend was an only child and while she was playing with all of her toys I was getting harassed by my brothers. I think she was more jealous of me.

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There was another girl in our neighborhood who had the fancier later version of the cardboard Barbie house. Her’s had several rooms and a TV set that you could change the pictures on. I didn’t play with her a whole lot although her mother really tried to make friends out of us. Her brother was one of my brother’s friends so I think she harbored hope that we’d hit it off. Not! She was one of the most annoying girls I’d ever known and absolutely no fun to play with. She had cool stuff but she didn’t want to share so playing at her house consisted of watching her play with her stuff. I’d rather be harassed by my brothers.

I remember having a Barbie, a Skipper, a Midge, and no Ken until I was about 10. He was a talking Ken. Which is kind of an odd thing when you think about it, I mean, what did he really have to say? I think he mostly asked Barbie out on dates, but other than that I can’t recall anything interesting. Besides he didn’t talk for long because he had one of those rings with the string coming out of his back and those never worked very well. I can still picture my friends pulling the string in mid-play, struggling to pull his shirt down in the back and trying not to get their fingers trapped by the ring and the string.

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I think we gave up on him fairly soon. Frankly, he wasn’t very interesting. Barbie and Midge were so over him and frankly, we were too. It was like that Seinfeld episode when they were writing the “Jerry” show and they didn’t know what Elaine’s character would say . . . that was us! We had no idea what Ken would say and when his string and ring broke, well, what little thrill we’d felt about him was gone . . .

For girls of my generation, hanging out with your friends and “playing Barbies” was a lot of fun.  My brothers also had fun pulling their heads off and then making them dive into a bucket from the treehouse.  Typical male behavior!  Actually, when my son was small he found the one Barbie I had in the house for when my nieces visited.  My husband was concerned until he peeled all of her clothes off.  Now that’s normal!  (or at least it was when I was a kid)

That’s the thing.  Us older folks always have to tiptoe around subjects because we might offend someone.  I don’t remember worrying about that too much when I was a kid.  My parents taught us that if we were nice and respectful that if anyone took offense from us then that was their problem.  Now, we have to justify everything we say and do to people we don’t respect and who aren’t very nice.  It’s crazy making!

I wish Barbie well and hope that there are parents out there who continue to paint the aisles pink and let their little girls play with Barbies and pretend to be Princesses.  If it makes them happy, why not?  Their body image isn’t dictated by a doll, it’s modeled for them by the women around them.  I find it interesting that when I was in high school and Barbies were still popular, we all wanted to be a size 10.  Nowadays, with Barbie in the dog house the teen girls want to be a size zero.  You can’t blame that on Barbie anymore, it’s obvious the problem lies somewhere else.

My son is only 17 so it better be a long time before I become a grandmother.  However, if I have a granddaughter, I look forward to “playing Barbies” with her….if I can still get some!

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