When I was little, I was never at a loss for playtime activities. I had lots of toys like Littlest Pet Shop, trolls. There was my penchant for drawing/coloring, and we had a library of many interactive games at my disposal. My mom now claims I only wanted to play Hungry Hungry Hippos when she was hungover. I never KNEW she was hungover, so this just proves the antagonistic/rebellious streak in my personality. They are now Hungover Hippos.
I also loved dolls and had a variety of different kinds. My favorites were my Barbie dolls.
My best friend and I would play for hours and hours. I always wanted to play with Barbies (who, by the way, were never named Barbie, because that name was taken and boring). She always wanted to play with baby dolls.
I didn’t dislike playing with baby dolls, but for me, it got old fast. They only had so many outfits. When my realest baby doll arrived, I bottle fed and then watched in horror as she spent the rest of the day peeing through her diapers and outfits all over me and my clothes, until I eventually just undressed her and left her in the sink. When Grandma asked why she was in the bath room, I looked up from coloring and sighed that I’d left her there “because she wouldn’t stop peeing through everything, so she was just sitting in the sink until all the pee was gone.” My Grandma laughed at this and probably hoped I would never have children.
The other problem was that, like real children, once I had named them all, I never never felt comfortable changing their name. I was obsessed with the name Kate, so my babies were Virginia Kate, Mary Kate, and Marilyn (but only because tacking on the “Kate” sounded weird enough to little kid me that I left it off). I also had a Christopher, but he had limited appeal.
Since my friend always wanted to play baby dolls, we did this a lot. First, we’d thrust pillows under our stomachs and pretend to be pregnant. Then we’d pretend to pull the babies out, and just skip to the part where we had several. My friend had some pretty imaginative ideas for everything. In one game, she usually took care of the baby dolls, and I would go to work to get us money or win money on game shows. In another, there was a massive storm where we played a combination of baby dolls AND the floor is lava where I would pretend to boat around the WHOLE room to get us supplies while my friend took care of the babies. Regardless, most of our games involved me having limited interaction with the dolls.
By this point, I would want to move on to something else. Yet, my peer never seemed to tire of baby dolls. She would want to change their clothes, FOLD their clothes, feed them, and change their diapers. I found these activities exhausting and pointless. They were just dolls. I threw my clothes on the floor. Why did we have to fold theirs? We’d have to take them with us regardless if we were inside, outside, or going into another room. Even when they napped, we had to watch to make sure they didn’t wake up. This felt extremely limiting to me. Another reason was because she liked Cabbage Patch dolls, and I had trouble looking at them without being overcome by how unattractive they were.
Barbies were different for me. She could go shopping in New York for FREE and didn’t pee through her clothes. She could travel with her friends in her camper. She could work two jobs in two different outfits and then go out with her boyfriend. When I got older, I started painting my Barbies’ make up on and tried to dye one’s hair in the sink with food coloring. The dye job took all day and didn’t work, but I was very proud of the make up job.
The thing I loved about Barbies was that they could do things we couldn’t and defied normal weather/seasonal patterns. Freezing and cold? Barbie could wear a sundress to the beach. We couldn’t leave the backyard for our parents’ fear of us getting lost and kidnapped? Barbie could explore the whole jungle. Can’t wear make up, ‘cuz the ‘rents would find out? Barbie’s was TATTOO’D on. Did our parents turn down our pleas to go to the amusement park? Barbie went to the amusement park with all of her friends, and we made variations of different amusement park rides out of things in my bedroom. The possibilities were endless.
I started off with one which rapidly multiplied with my love. One of the things I required was Ken dolls, because all Barbies and no Kens made my play time SUPER boring. We even recycled all my armless and headless Ken dolls (the guy to gal ratio was not great) by pretending they were part of some weird scientific experiment or zombies who wandered after the Barbies not as predators, just as misunderstood guys who wanted to befriend or possibly date her.
My friend got tired of Barbies, so sometimes she’d also bring in the baby aspect to that. Our biggest argument when we were little was one day over the Barbies’ camping trip. My friend wanted to bring Barbie’s kids and I wanted the Barbies’ boyfriends to go.
“No boys allowed. Your boyfriend can’t come,” my friend explained.
“Why not? It’s camping. Barbie always takes her boyfriend camping,” was my rebuttal. “Besides, you’re bringing the babies.”
“We CAN’T leave the babies at home,” my friend complained. “They go with us everywhere.”
“Why not? We can hire a sitter.”
“Not for the whole weekend,” my friend said. “I can watch your kids. Ken can do something else.”
“I don’t WANT him to do something else. He’s my boyfriend. He’s SUPPOSED to go with us. I actually want him and Barbie to get married.”
“Barbie CAN’T get married!”
This went on for awhile, until we decided to just play City Mouse/Country Mouse which was a great compromise, because we both liked to switch who was who. It got boring more quickly, but there was far less fighting about the logistics. Our other second favorite game was Polly Pockets, who to my pleasant surprise, were too small to have babies.
I even watched a 25th anniversary special about Barbie on TV complete with a segment where people who looked like Barbie were interviewed.
When I grew up, I was very sad to learn that people looked down on Barbie. To me, Barbie was a great way to break out of being a kid and play at the exciting and fascinating world of being an adult and the dynamics that we would later face. My Barbies could re-enact my favorite movies and tv shows, imagine for me what my future careers would be like, and how fun it would be someday when I got to wear make up and heels (things I wasn’t allowed to do when I was a kid and honestly is much more fun when you don’t feel pressured everyday to do it). I had a lot of positive women role models so Barbie wasn’t seen as who I wanted to be. Instead she served as a channel for my imagination and who I saw myself becoming. Did she have to wear pink? No, my favorite outfits for her were a red cocktail dress and a black negligee (pants were way too hard to put on her, although I was CONSTANTLY pushing Barbie’s curved feet into flat shoes until I gave up). Was she a passive, subservient woman? Hell no! Barbie was a kick ass, spunky gal who lived her own life, conquered her own battles, and didn’t worry about what the other Barbies said behind her back. And as for her boyfriend, Barbie didn’t have to have him. She arrived in the box alone, didn’t she? And at the end of every scenario with headless Ken, Barbie always learned that understanding and friendship was better than fear.
What I can tell you about grown-up me is I ended up eating more during my adolescent and teen years in the hopes of getting some awesome breasts. I’m always found with bare minimum to no make up, heels make me angry, and I do not own a pink house or car. I also played with trolls as a kid, and I’ve never dyed my hair an unnatural color (ok, I do look pretty weird as a blonde) and as of yet, no one has found a jewel in my belly.
Childhood is a very crucial time, and although toys can play an influential role in the eyes of our youth, it is by no means the only role. Did I learn everything about my life from this doll? Certainly not. I also paid a great deal of attention to television, my family, and my schoolwork.
I read an article recently that explained that all little girls go through a baby dolls phase, because it is part of how they begin to observe roles. I’ve never read any articles that explain how adventurous girls can be when they play with Barbie.
Barbie is not for everyone. Side effects may include body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, anxiety about having a boyfriend, and addiction to the color pink. Ask your parent if you think Barbie is right for you.
This may be my new favorite thing ever. [Copyright: The Weird Button]
Also talk to your parent about baby dolls. They’re not for everyone either. I’m not sure what the side effects are, because I still hate them. But that’s just an opinion.
Don’t ask your parents about trolls or Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Just make your grandparents buy them for you. I promise you, it’ll be worth it.