What Happened With Barbie?


Although my daughters are, for the most part, pretty good kids, and I shouldn’t complain, I used to think no child rearing could be worse than my two little girls when they were fighting – until now that they are teens, they are both bigger than I am, and just as loud. When we are angry, the volume always rises, each of us trying to overpower the others.
Our crazy topic of conflict for the week: playing with Barbie dolls. Although neither girl gets her Barbie stuff out much anymore, I would expect my 13-year-old might before her 17-year-old sister would. Such was the case one Sunday afternoon.
Big sister has the toys she is storing for posterity packed in plastic totes. They are not readily available for sharing. Little sister finds this “off limits” concept hard to accept since idle toys are left going to waste. I’ve taught them to take care of their toys, maybe too well. I’ve explained that if only I’d kept my Barbie stuff, instead of shipping it off to a cousin, it would be
collectible now.
In spite of criticism that this fashion doll promotes her sleek, unrealistic figure as something to be idealized, my first Barbie, compared to recent designs, was classy. Her tiny pearl earrings push-pinned into tiny lobes, looked like real pierced ears compared to the brightly colored plastic buttons on today’s dolls. Her outfits and accessories showed a detailed fashion sense that has diminished over time. Even the box she came in had style – no cellophane; labeled price: $3 from the toy section of the basement level of McCulloch’s department store in Salem.
Being fair-minded, my mother also bought my brother something the day she bought my Barbie – a rubber Fred Flintstone figure nearly twice Barbie’s size. Keep in mind that Ken had not yet arrived on the scene. Little did anyone suspect that Fred would have to serve as Barbie’s husband. Many times I coerced my poor brother to play “cave couple” under the raised footrest of our dad’s Naugahyde recliner. Barbie, in her black-and-white striped swimsuit, became Wilma.
The novelty of her swept back ponytail with tightly curled bangs wore off. My cousin Bonnie seemed ready for a change, too (you know, women and hair). We “played Barbies” for the first time at age 4 or 5 and traded dolls’ heads. Why not trade entire dolls? I don’t remember. There must have been some reason. So, I ended up with the famous Barbie bubble cut.
That chic Barbie style is here no longer. Now to enter the Barbie world is to file through one or more long, department store aisles lined with the shocking pink that has come to designate everything Barbie. Gone are the realistic colors that made my cardboard dreamhouse a girl’s dream come true. Now, Barbie rides in plastic cars and RVs that are, besides bright pink, pastel aqua or dark lavender. Her pets are yellow or blue plastic dogs and cats. Frustrated, I think, “Get real!” and mean just that.
What’s happened with Barbie? At our house, that Sunday, after detecting indications of bribery ( i.e. monetary payment for toys borrowed since younger sister often has more cash put aside than older, car-driving, gas-buying sister), I firmly stated, “No money is being exchanged. If you can’t agree, then put everything away.”
When asked, “But why?” I swallowed my maternal self esteem and said, “Because I’m the Mom and I said so. Nobody is playing with Barbie.” Not even the mom.
We’re three Barbie girls in the Barbie world.
Life’s fantastic. Too bad it’s plastic. *

*My parody on the song “Barbie Girl” by Danish rock group Aqua from their album Aquarium, 1997.


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