Friday, March 20, 2009

Kathleen's Belated Birthday Blessings For Barbie

Dear Barbie,

I'm sorry I missed your 50th on March 9th, old friend. I don't know what I was thinking. We didn't actually meet until Christmas, 1959, when you arrived as a gift for my 6-year-old sister from her godparents. I still feel a little guilty about weaseling you away from her, but she wasn't old enough to fully appreciate you, and she never really liked dolls that much, anyway. I remember how the adults sort of made fun of you when Jill opened the box. "They're making babe dolls now?" The word inappropriate wasn't in vogue then, but there was some discussion of just how a little girl might play with something like you. I was supposed to be outgrowing dolls at that point, and Jill was supposed to be squeezing water into Tiny Tears's mouth and out her behind. (Yes, her behind. I have several Tiny Tears dolls, and the hole is smack in the middle of the left butt cheek. Anatomically correct wasn't in vogue then, either.)

I've always loved dolls. I've never outgrown them. I have quite a collection, and even though none can claim to be my own personal childhood doll, I have their representatives--dolls once loved by girls who are now my age. I have more than 50 of you now, Barbie, (vintage, about 1960 through 1972) but none as old as the one I "appropriated" from my baby sister. (I owe her. If I hadn't played that doll to death, she'd be worth a small fortune.) And I knew exactly how to play with you from the moment we met.

I grew up on paper dolls. You don't cuddle paper dolls. You dress them, walk them, talk them, be them. You imagine yourself as a young woman. Not a young wife or mother, but a woman in her own right. You do things with your girlfriends. Yes, you have a Ken doll around, but nobody wants to be Ken. He comes in for the date or the wedding or whatever, but his clothes are boring, and he doesn't talk much. I knew that in my circle of friends, we would each soon have a Barbie. Back then it was one per girl. (Little Miss Revlon--two to the right--would soon be relegated to the closet because she just didn't have what you have. Chutzpah.) In the summertime we would spread a blanket on the grass, and that blanket became your stage. We acted out our dreams all afternoon. "And you said....And you didn't know that I was...." We made stories for you, Barbie. And guess what I grew up to do for a living.

So, did you know that some ditzy male lawmaker has introduced a bill to ban you in West Virginia? He says you put too much influence on appearances and materialism. Doesn't he know that over the years you've had over 100 professions, including U.S. President? Ruth Handler, the mother of your invention, thought long and hard about the perfect size for the kind of play she had in mind--the kind paper dolls lend themselves to--and to this day you're 11 1/2 inches tall.


Yes, you have a tiny waist, but that's because you were designed for skirts and pants with waistbands, which add a certain bulk to a girl your size.

Did you know that 50 of the world's top fashion designers created looks for a fashion show during New York Fashion Week in honor of your 50th birthday? We Boomers have fond memories of you, but so do our daughters. And now our granddaughters play with you on BarbieGirls.com and watch your movies. And of course they have their own toyboxes full of you--although they love those early versions of you every bit as much as Grandma does. You and your clothes were so well made back then. And most girls only had one Barbie. It was a special occasion when we got a new outfit. But, to my great joy, the play hasn't changed very much. For girls who love dolls, you're still tops.

We've talked about games recently. How about our favorite toys? Do you still have any of your? What toys have you particularly enjoyed giving to children? What makes a cool toy?

26 comments:

amy*skf said...

Kathleen, you brought back such vivid memories...the blanket stretched out in the backyard with the neighborhood girls, deciding what drama would happen today in the lives of our Barbies...

Did you see the picture that was supposed to represent Barbie at 50? Yeah, I don't think so...Barbie would look way more "babish" at 50 than what they envisioned. Maybe I got upset, because I'm 50...

I remember trying to ban guns from my older son's toys--no one was allowed to give him toy guns as gifts. But when he picked up the plastic giraffe and and held it like a gun and started shooting imaginary "bad guys" I realized--the kids are gonna find a way to play what they want.

So all those little girls in West Virginia...I think they'll find a way. And if people were more concerned with how we treat each other instead of what we're playing with, well, maybe any toy would be okay.

Keri Ford said...

Barbie and I have the same birthday! How cool is that? Played with Barbie all the time when I was younger.

The Ken doll I had was from The Beauty And The Beast edition. I didn't like his long hair, so I cut it. Didn't help the poor fellow out much, and sadly, he gained very few dates from Barbie.

We had several Barbie's, but it seems like I always played with one in particular while the other's were just secondary characters in my stories.

What's that dork going to do in WV next? Ban all magazines and put moderation on tv? Sad to see that people have so little time that they'd take away a child's staple toy.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Keri, the dork in WV says he knows his bill doesn't stand much of a chance, but he wanted to make a point. I suspect he wanted publicity. Also suspect he doesn't know much about women.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Amy, where can I find those "Barbie at 50" pictures? Yeah, I tried to stay away from guns for the boys, too. I will say neither of them is into guns to this day. Light sabers, yes. Neither of them ever asked for a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas, but Clyde got one for younger son anyway. It didn't get much use after Dad finished playing with it.

Michele Hauf said...

Ah, Barbie. Only fond memories. My Barbie would pack up the Barbie camper and cruise across the grass in the backyard to hook up with the other neighborhood Barbies (all arrived in campers, as well). On occassion we'd go on a trip because I did have the Barbie Airplane too. But we made Ken be the stewardess, even dressed in his pilot suit. I was ever frustrated that Ken's hair was plastic and uncomb-able.
I still have my Malibu Barbie. I think she's nestled in a box somewhere wearing a tattered wedding dress. I don't believe she and Ken were ever married, but lived in sin. They did very well until Cher came along, long-haired, long-lashed seductress that she was. (I recall those lashes must have been a quarter of an inch long!)
Ah, such memories.
Thanks, Kathy! I needed that.

Kathleen Eagle said...

We (baby sister was, I believe, the original owner) had one of the original flocked-hair Ken dolls. The hair wore off. It was supposed to be a crew cut, of course, but it became a bald head, and Barbie lost that lovin' feelin'.

Playground Monitor said...

I never had a Barbie. *snif* But my little granddaughter got her first one last Christmas at the ripe old age of 2 1/2.

I've enjoyed giving her some of the same things my sons enjoyed like an Etch-a-Sketch, the big Legos for toddlers and books galore.

If the dork from WV is interested in appearance and materialism, he needs to ban anything with Paris Hilton in it too. Point or no point, I would be livid to know my legislator was wasting my tax money dreaming up such drivel while the real problems go unsolved.

I still have a miniature Singer sewing machine I got as a child. It doesn't work properly but I'm sure it could with some repair. I also still have Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs (the round containers they came in are battered but still hanging in there) and a transistor radio I got for Christmas in 1960. It too doesn't work, but it's that cool 1960's turquoise color and is about the size of an original iPod only 2 1/2 times thicker. It was AM only and ran on a 9V battery. I thought I was the coolest kid on earth with that radio.

Do they still make paper dolls? I used to love them. And does anyone remember Betsy McCall that came in McCall's magazine each month? I couldn't wait for my mother to finish reading her magazine so I could cut those out.

Marilyn

Debra Dixon said...

I had such a Barbie collection. Unfortunately, I didn't know any better and sold my dolls and mega trunks of clothes for $75 when I was in college. I thought I was stealing from the woman. Ha! Wish I had all that back now.

I had a brunette, a blonde, 2 Ken's and a Skipper. I had custom clothes made by my grandmother who earned her living as a seamstress for a while when I was young.

My sister and I also had these huge lifesize dolls. They were actually kind of unsettling!

And I loved the dollhouse and all its pieces.

But I wasn't much of a doll-player. I just liked amassing "stuff." A trait I still have today!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Marilyn, I was a Betsy McCall girl, too! Mama didn't subscribe, so I had to remind her to get McCall's Mag, which she often did when she picked up Woman's Day and Family Circle in the grocery store. Our only steady subscriptions were Better Homes, Popular Mechanics, and Reader's Digest. I kept my Betsy McCall paper dolls in a big envelope.

Paper dolls ain't what they used to be, but I see them once in a while in the stores. I had Doris Day, Rock Hudson, the Lennon Sisters, Annette Funicello--oh the memories.

Have you noticed those 60's geometric prints coming back? I saw some lamp shades in Ruby Tuesdays just yesterday--had those round-edged squares. And 60's turquoise with brown--it's baaack.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Deb, I've been a packrat all my life. What era were your Barbies? I have some ponytails and early 60's bubblecuts--you're too young for those. Were you mod era? I have those, too. Their clothes are just like what I wore in high school and college. After 1972 Barbie changed a lot. I think that's when Mattel was sold.

coffee said...

legislators had to realize proposing a Barbie ban would cause a big media stir, but then again maybe this was strategic...

Nikki said...

Wow this really brought back some memories! I had the bubble-cut brunette like the one in the wedding dress. I think I got it in 1960 or '61 (or maybe '62). I actually didn't play with her too much, and consequently wasn't too impressed when my mom CROCHETED some sweaters and skirts (yeah, talk about a tiny crochet needle). Oh, if I only had those precious little outfits now. They are probably moth-eaten, lurking in a closet at my dad's house, right next to my Mickey Mantle baseball card. dang it. {sigh}

Virginia said...

I still have my Barbie's. I have Barbie, she is dated 1958, but in bad shape. I have Ken, Midge, and Skipper, the flat chested one. They are dated in the 60's. I played with these dolls a lot so they are not in very good shape. I still hung onto them after all these years.

Carol Burge said...

Oh, how I wish I still had all my Barbies! My younger sisters destroyed them when I got to the teen years. I could of throttled them!

I had tons and absolutely LOVED them all (and still do)! I even had Barbies friends Madge & Skip (I think it was Skip). LOL

Ahhh, the memories they bring back...

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy, I got a competing "Tina" doll when they first came out. WE called them "high heel dolls" at first, because most dolls had children's feet and shoes at that time. Later we called them "fashion dolls," and you're right-- they were like paper dolls that you dressed and posed and "walked" through adventures.

My Mom wouldn't buy me a Barbie because she said the faces looked weird. (She was VERY opinionated about faces and dolls for some reason!) I confess, I thought the faces a little off, too at that time. And looking back, I still think the old faces look a little strange. . . I like the current versions much, much better. They're much prettier dolls.

And for the record, I've bought a few Barbies over the years for little girls. . . especially the beautiful special edition dolls. I can

sshay said...

Although I didn't like dolls much, I got a brunette Barbie for my birthday. I was very unhappy one day to find out one of my little sisters had chewed her feet off.
It wasn't much fun playing with an amputee Barbie.
Susan Shay

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

I had a huge collection of barbies when I was a little girl back in the 60's. Dummy me gave them away to the girl next door when I moved. They are probably worth a fortune now.

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Kathleen Eagle said...

Coffee, I'm sure the WV legislator knew it was Barbie's 50th. I swear, these guys are all about making cable news these days. But can you imagine being that willing to make a fool of yourself?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Nikki, you have to search the closets at Daddy's. Those are treasures for you grands! I was an AF brat, and every time we moved, we had to part with anything that wasn't getting daily use. Mama was not one to save anything we'd "outgrown." And, like you, oh, how I wish I still had...

Kathleen Eagle said...

Virginia, there's no such thing as "bad shape" for a childhood toy. It's "well-loved."

The earliest Barbie is 1959. Her eyebrows are arched into points, and her skin is probably milky white, which is how those first couple of versions aged. Even in "bad shape" they're rare.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Carol, I wasn't a Midge fan, and Skipper came after my time, as did the Mod dolls. I do like Francie--have a few of those. She brings back the Carnaby Street, Mary Quant style. I have a Twiggy, too. I think she was the first celebrity Barbie. Here's a fun mod London video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDJo1v2jqi0

Kathleen Eagle said...

I wonder why Betina got a Tina doll. (We had a Chatty Cathy around the house--I think it was baby sister's.)

I have to disagree with your mom on the weird faces. The old Barbie is so much prettier than the current version. They were definitely made better.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Susan, for some reason the chewed up foot is a common Barbie injury. Those little feet must have look delicious to little sisters. That and pinholes in the boobs. Now that's a little weird. (Grist for the story mill there.) And haircuts, of course.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Robin, what a cool blog. Thanks for the award for ours!

Jill said...

So, you STOLE my first Barbie! That explains my lifetime of anal retentive behavior! Oh, alright, I guess it was already there... I think I liked organizing all those little dishes in my fake Barbie kitchen more than the role playing. The writing was already on the wall: you were right brain, I was left. While you were holed up in your messy bedroom writing Bonanza stories, I was helping Mama dust.
How lucky I was to have been your excuse to play dolls at 16! Thanks for all the hours you spent with me. Thanks for the beautiful paper dolls you always made me! And thanks for being so damn creative!
Love you.
Your baby sister,
Jill

Debra Dixon said...

Jill-- Very cool post! And now I can go needle Kathy about writing...BONANZA STORIES??!!