What Is it
to Wyndspirit Dreams! When I was in second grade, we were supposed
to draw a picture of what we would wish for if we wished upon a star. I
drew a picture of Living Skipper, complete with curly ponytails and mesh
beach jacket. I dreamed over her every time we went to the store. I saved
my dime a week allowance for a year, and finally purchased her. I adored
that doll—until I got a Barbie. Skipper was still played with and well-loved,
but now she was relegated to the role of little sister, second banana behind
Barbie. After all, she was a little girl, I was a little girl. Where was
the novelty? What kind of adventures could little girls have, unless they
were tagging along with grown-up big sisters?
I realize my age is
showing, but my parents’ generation didn’t have Barbie when they were children,
and I suspect most of them never did figure out what little girls saw in
an adult fashion doll with an exaggerated hourglass figure. I, on the other
hand, can’t figure out how they ever played without Barbies. What kind
of adventures can you have with baby and child dolls? Maybe it was the
generation. Back then, little girls expected to be wives and mothers when
they grew up, so that is what they role-played. But once women entered
the work force and discovered they had some value in themselves alone,
not just in supporting roles as wives and mothers to other people, there
was no turning back, and I think Barbie reflected that changing mindset.
Now, I am not knocking marriage and motherhood, and the fact that Mattel
keeps coming out with “little sisters” and “baby sisters” for Barbie proves
that even Barbie lovers like to be “nurturers.” I am simply trying to explain
the appeal of Barbie.
I know my mom did not
like Barbie’s figure, even though I doubt she worried the way some parents
did that we would feel insecure about our bodies because we would never
be able to attain that “ideal.” Come on, kids don’t care about things like
that! Little girls just want something to dress in bright, pretty clothes.
Older girls just want to have adventures. My favorite Barbies were not
the beautiful ones, but the ones I felt were more realistic. I loved my
Sweet Sixteen because she had a neutral expression, not a cheesy “model”
grin. After all—she was everything from an airline stewardess to a doctor
to a cop. Not every situation she encountered called for a smile! I had
two Barbies, a Francie, and a Skipper. My sister had two Barbies and a
Skipper. We both had assorted non-Barbie fashion dolls. Each had a name
and personality that never changed. Even when we swapped dolls on occasion,
they remained in character, just operated by a different person. Even last
week when I was home I was telling Mom about the dolls, reciting their
names and lineage to her. Sadly, although the dolls were well cared for
and well loved, they were also much played with, and the wear and tear
eventually caught up with them. I played with them with my sister till
I was old enough to start feeling foolish. Then I set them up and wrote
plays about them till their bodies finally gave out, and I regretfully
packed them away.
I left home and got a job and actually had money to buy Barbies! I bought
collector Barbies looking for beauty, and play line Barbies looking for
personality. And I continued to write stories and plays about my Barbies.
Now I have been a collector for so many years that I can look at my dolls
and see how culture has affected Barbie over the years. I have always thought
the very first Barbies of the late ‘50s were ugly, with tightly-styled
hair and “harsh” makeup, but obviously people felt they were beautiful
at the time. My generation is the ‘70s and ‘80s. I still love the natural
look of the long, straight hair and minimal makeup of the “hippie” era.
Then there were the exaggerated ‘80s, with “big hair,” deep tans, big eyes,
and tons of eye shadow. Hey, I thought they were beautiful at the time!
One of those dolls is still my favorite. Golden Dreams Barbie has weird
“golden-tan” skin and icky-textured but pretty Quick Curl hair and a quirky
grin that (to me) always looks like she’s teasing somebody. Then there
were the ‘90s, with more moderate hairstyles and less makeup. Now Barbie
has straight hair (although sometimes with streaks of color), minimal makeup,
and Mattel has given in to pressure and created a new, more realistic Barbie
body. I still don’t think children care one way or the other, but we adult
collectors love it.
long since grown up and given up adventuring with Barbie. So why do I still
love Barbie dolls? Partly because I’m intrigued by the way they reflect
our culture. Partly because I love anything that’s tiny and exquisitely
detailed. Mostly because I can fix their hair and put them in beautiful
clothes, and they will look beautiful, which is something I can’t do to
myself. Through them I can show off trendy clothes on a slim figure. I
can buy something pretty and know that when I come home and put it on a
Barbie, it will still look nice. In some small way, it gives me an escape
from the homely person I am in real life who looks dumpy no matter what
she wears and who can’t fix her hair to save her life. Hmm… I guess in
a way I do still play with Barbie!