Don’t judge me. But at last count I had something close to seventy Barbie dolls, some of them still in their boxes, all in mint condition or close to it. Almost seventy Barbies and two Kens. Actually, one of the Kens was a generic named Todd.
It is due to the coaxing of my mother that they remain so pristine today. She is also the reason my cousin Michelle was never allowed to come over and play after she decided it would be fun for one of my Barbies to go to the salon. Thankfully, Barbie only had her split ends trimmed that day. I was too scared to move forward with Barbie’s pixie cut after Michelle was banished from our single wide trailer for life. The phrase, “These will be worth some money one day,” would play over and over in my head as I would sit there staring at their lifeless, ocean-blue eyes. “What do I do with you?” I would ask.
I spent a lot of time dressing and redressing them- not the Kens though. Who cares about man clothes? But they would always end up in their original outfit. Doctor Barbie was very seldom dressed for a night out, and Hawaiian Tropics Barbie’s sarong was judged harshly by the others when the temperature would dip below 80 degrees. My first Barbie came dressed in a pencil skirt and a halter top that never stayed up. Once my dad was showing off his new stereo to a friend and the bass was so loud the vibrations of the music made the halter top slide down, revealing those famous nipple-less breasts that I thought were strange even at the time.
Sometimes when I was feeling particularly aggressive toward one of the girls, I’d put her behind the wheel of her pink Cadillac convertible and roll that bad boy down the stairs. She would crash into the linen closet door with a satisfying thud and then I would make her wear a pink, plastic Barbie cast for a whole week. Other times, I would grab Ken or Todd and have him roll around under a sheet with one very lucky lady because that’s what people did on my mom’s soap operas. Ken and Todd were man whores. When my cousin Jamie would come over, Barbie would often get into an accident with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ pizza thrower van. Just a minor fender bender, though. And everyone enjoyed delicious plastic pizza and laughed.
I never called them “Barbie” to their face. Instead, each one was given a different name that I would soon forget after that particular day of play was over. I had all the holiday Barbies, Peaches and Cream Barbie-Mattel’s greatest theme to date- and the Barbie who ran her hands through her luxurious blond locks when you pushed the button on her back that stuck out of her evening gown like some hideous growth. They went from being my joy to my secret shame. When I turned 13, I didn’t know how to tell my mom I had outgrown their presence in my room. Instead, I waited for us to move again then packed them all into a rubbermaid container where they remain today.
In recent history my old girl Barbie has become less of a pink polyethylene celebration, and more of a whipping girl. See the world will have me believe that my own personal body issues- one of the many wonders of being a woman- are all because I spent a large portion of my childhood trying to shove a doll’s ridiculously arched feet into a tiny plastic heeled sandal. Seriously, Barbie cannot keep shoes on her feet to save her meaningless life and, as anyone will tell you, a woman who cannot take advantage of a massive shoe collection is no woman at all.
Look, I believe we’re giving this brainless twit a bit too much credit, too much power. And, in turn, we’re teaching our daughters that they can be easily manipulated by a rubber stick figure with a disposable income and a perma-grin. The folks at Mattel made a doll. A doll! A thing that can very easily, as we learned from watching the video for Soundgarden’s 1994 hit “Black Hole Sun”, be melted into a goo of nothingness over a barbeque. Rather than saying, “See this doll? Well, she’s a doll. She isn’t a real representation of a woman. I am. So is your aunt, your grandmother, and your second grade teacher with the flappy skin on her arm that shakes when she writes on the board. Not this. This cannot menstruate,” we wait until our daughters are royally screwed in the head, anorexic, bulimic, or chronic over eaters- then we blame the one thing in this scenario that cannot blink, breathe, think, or eat in the first place. I have news for you all. Barbie wasn’t really eating those pizzas from the Ninja Turtles’ pizza thrower van. She has never had pizza. That is why her hips are that small. She has never had real joy. Her smile is painted on. She has also never had pubic hair. She is completely smooth down there. She is not a real thing.
Though I suppose if Mattel is to blame for my sometimes wanting a flat tummy, then Hasbro should be thrown under the bus for cooking up the notion that ponies can be purple? And if all young women who played with Barbie are now cursed with a poor sense of self because of a toy, what did the loosey-goosey joints of the original GI Joe dolls – yeah, I’m sorry, but those are also dolls- teach our boys? Arms and legs are not supposed to move like that and yet I have never heard a person blame the wild, reckless, and sometimes physically harmful play of young boys on a GI Joe.
I am not a mom, but I was once a little girl and I do have advice. Just be cool, okay? Be honest and real and upfront with her. Stop telling her she is easily influenced by what she watches or plays with and talk to her like she’s a human being. Because she is, and it’s sort of up to you whether she grows up to be the next Hilary Clinton or the next Paris Hilton. Toy makers haven’t got a damn thing to do with that. Give her books to read. Feed her fruits and vegetables and healthy meals and tell her she’s smart, even if math class is tough. Because for some of us it really was, but we still turned out okay.