Blast from the Past: What My Childhood Barbie Dolls Meant to Me

I still remember sitting at the kitchen table, barely seven, drafting a letter to Old Saint Nick. I’d seen Mom browsing through the advertising circulars that had come through the mail, and, perpetually yearning to be in her presence, I planted myself next to her.

I picked up the one from Longs Drugs, an American chain that is now CVS, and leafed to the toy section. My eyes immediately fell upon the latest Barbie, and I clipped the photo to append to my Santa wish list.

As a child, Barbie held an unbreakable spell over me. I would fawn over her glamorous mini-dresses, those tiny poised feet that slipped effortlessly into her heels, that sun-kissed hair, and her pleasant smile baring just the right gap of white.


Photo credit: http://dreamatico.com/


But I wasn’t like most girls who would brush her hair, dress her in different outfits, and drag her in tote wherever they went. On the contrary, my fixation with her translated to distant admiration and an earnest desire to preserve her eternally. That meant storing her in her box most of the time, where I could marvel at her pristine beauty.

Over the course of my childhood, I collected maybe 15 or 16 Barbie dolls, and for years they were on display atop my bedroom dresser. My parents bought me a few special edition Barbies as well, including Atlanta 96 to commemorate the summer Olympics. I refused to have an imitation doll by some knockoff make. It was Mattel or nothing.

One of the first I owned: Totally Hair Barbie (1992)
(photo credit: http://40.media.tumblr.com/)


When I left the nest to attend grad school, my mother stored all my Barbies, intact in their pink boxes, in a large cardboard chest, and to this day it remains stashed in the shed of my parents’ home. Mom insists I bequeath them to my daughter(s) in the future, a resolution I warmly embrace.

But will my dolls still be relevant in the wake of Mattel’s new army of Barbies, released a few weeks ago? Now that there are tall, petite, and curvy sizes to accompany seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles, perhaps my slender, high-heeled and unmistakably blonde Barbies have become somewhat anachronistic. Perhaps they are nothing more than collector’s items since they hail from the ‘90s, when blending in was the name of the game.

Barbie body types
The new Barbie dolls come in an array of colors, shapes and sizes
 (photo credit: http://www.latimes.com/)


Mattel argues that these new dolls reflect every girl's unique identity and help shatter any self-consciousness that may arise from not resembling Barbie. 

I don’t recall ever feeling like a misfit or clown because I didn’t have Barbie’s unattainable features. To me, she has and always will be an icon of every American girl’s childhood, and in truth, it was her fashionable attire, not her figure, that I found delightful. I never cared for her brunette friend, nor did I want anything to do with Ken and his pink car. I wanted Barbie and Barbie alone, because she was a true sophisticate who could pull off any ensemble.

So while the public praises the multiethnic and colored figurines as a boost to girls' self-confidence, reaffirming their place in a mixed society, I’m unfazed over the change. The cited psychology justifying the evolution of Barbie is doubtfully the principal motive. Realistically, it’s a strategic move to ameliorate declining demand and sales of Mattel products. 

As humans, we want what we do not or cannot have. And for virtually all of us, the original Barbie is that perfect specimen which we can never be. Dainty feet, an impossibly narrow waistline, an impressive bust, huge eyes, a button nose, straight bleached hair. I loved her for who she was, not who I was not. Isn’t that what toys are all about?

The more jarring message, however, is this: my generation has officially joined the ranks of “oldies.” Cue the tears.

The Zuhair Murad Barbie Doll, released in 2014.
In 2014, Lebanese fashion designer Zuhair Murad collaborated with Mattel to produce this Barbie. Who knew!
(photo credit: http://time.com/4193374/see-barbies-most-fabulous-fashion-designer-collaborations/) 

Comments

  1. Don’t despair, don’t shed a tear. I know you think you’ve now joined the ranks of “oldies” after the inauguration of the new Barbies, but I have to tell you that it could be worse—much worse. The other day I was going through an old box at my mother’s house, which her maid wanted out of the closet. I found posters of Muhammad Ali and Pelé. That along with my old collection of bell-bottoms still hung and left to collect dust, I should be twice as tearful.

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  2. Hahaha this is so true, coming in with new shapes and sizes all seems forced and a little desperate. I never cared about her figure - I was always more obsessed with buying her new clothes and wishing they came in size Human.

    ...I will admit that I preferred the brunette Teresa though. #sorrynotsorry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barbie outfits are so trendy. Several years ago I found a nearly identical dress cut to the one sported above by Totally Hair Barbie. I bought almost a dozen of them, same cut, different prints :)

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