Monday, March 02, 2009

Ken's trophy wife Barbie turns 50

"C'mon, shark, sure she's all gristle, but just bite her for us awkward girls!"

Perhaps nothing symbolized the schism between me and the other little girls growing up more than the Barbie doll, which turns 50 this week. When I look back on my childhood, I realize that the moment I turned my nose up at the plasticine chick was the moment I went from regular girl to nerd girl. While my neighbor Jenny coveted her collection of each and every Barbie iteration -- Princess Barbie, Beach Barbie, Cheerleader Barbie, Dyspeptic Barbie, Third-Nipple Barbie, the list goes on -- I simply coveted the times her brother and I would sneak into her Pepto-Bismal pink room, steal a Barbie, decapitate it and replace the head with a Jawa noggin or a Hammerhead cranium (a terrible waste of Star Wars action figures in retrospect), litter the doll's limbs outside her bedroom door and then watch her cry.

I also enjoyed lighting the Barbies on fire, strapping them to the back of the neighborhood alley cat and having a rodeo, and dragging them behind my Big Wheel until they disintegrated. Now, I don't know if I did this because I enjoyed the "attagirls" I got from her brother (whom I harbored a deep and abiding crush on, mostly because he was the only boy in the neighborhood with a rock polisher) or because I genuinely hated the dolls (or Jenny). Either way, though, the desecration of the Barbie became a well-honed hobby of mine from the ages of 6 to 9. And if I'm perfectly honest, I still look back on that destructive time with just a wee bit of pride -- the doll did look pretty hilarious with a hammerhead stacked on her inhumanly thin shoulders.

This is not to say I disliked all dolls. I was a fan of the Cabbage Patch -- I liked their heft and homely faces. And I loved stuffed animals which I would dress in little clothes the same way the Barbie lunatics dressed their little anorexic annies. I'm not sure why I hated Barbie so much. Probably because she always seemed so snootie. She was a tiny, plastic version of those girls I was always afraid of at school, the ones whose clothes matched and who never spilled juice on themselves at snack time or accidentally vomited after spinning too long on the tire swing. I kind of hated them...and so I set their dolls on fire. (Actually, I was afraid of matches, so it was my friend Matt who did the lighting. I just stood by with the bucket of water because nerdy girls are nothing if not safety conscious, even at a young, destructive age. Stop, drop and roll, that's our mantra!)

So happy birthday, Barbie! I'm sorry I enjoyed watching you melt in an apocalypse of flames on the neighbor's driveway, and I hope you have another wonderful 50 years of creating unattainable and inhumane physical expectations for small, impressionable little girls all over the world! I look forward to eating cake and then immediately purging it in your honor. Rock on.

What did you think of Barbie growing up?


Stepha said...

This is exactly why I love your blog. Rock on.

The Modern Gal said...

You know, Barbie had all sorts of careers like being a doctor and a vet and a rock star and a movie star. Would that not make Ken the trophy husband?

Just playing devil's advocate here.

I'm proud to say that whenever McDonald's gave us a choice of Happy Meal toy between Barbie and Hot Wheels, I always went for the Hot Wheels. Because they were so much cooler.

Theresa B said...

I wasn't a fan of Barbie growing up, but I had three older brothers and I think my parents were just happy that I was willing to play with all of their stuff.

A friend of mine noted that his sister's Suntan Barbie seemed to be thermally sensitive, and attempted to confirm that by putting her in the Easy Bake Oven. It wasn't pretty, for Barbie or the oven.

RedCochina said...

I didn't own any Barbies mostly because my mom deemed them too expensive. I got a "Heart Family" for Christmas instead (kind of a cheap knock off but the set came with a dad and little brother and sister.) I remember thinking that Barbie was slightly cooler simply because she got to live alone in her ultra trendy Barbie house with her pink convertible.

But my friends had oodles of Barbies which we played with for about five seconds before hopping on our bikes and chasing down our guy friends to climb trees and play at the park. All Barbie wanted to do was change clothes and talk about boys. Boring!

Trey said...

Barbie in my house existed to be captured by Cobra, and rescued by GI Joe and Han Solo. Occasionally they'd be late or forget, and she'd die a horrible death, a poor pawn of international politics.

There was also the Barbie who learned that plastic hair melts in a curling iron, who eventually (with the use of markers) became Punk Barbie. She hung out with Jem, and eventually joined the band.

Didn't Barbie dump Ken sometime last year? I could have sworn I read something about that.

Jen said...

"Math is hard..." (Although according to Wikipedia it's "Math class is tough.")

Stupid Barbie.

That said, I did love that new Barbie smell (they smell like band-aids, weird -I know).

topazsfp said...

My only two Barbies were cheap knock-offs given to me by clueless relatives. I would have vastly preferred books, but I did enjoy making clothing for them from scraps (do I knit and sew today? Um, yes.)
When playing with my best friend, she tended to have stay-at-home Mommy Barbie with the official Barbie house and pink car, while I had FBI Agent Barbie dangling over the cliff. Or perhaps Barbies could be involved at home in Lego-GI Joe-Little Pony wars that ranged over the whole house and involved much throwing with my brother. (My Little Ponies were acceptable for boys to play with as long as they got 'blown up' at some point.)

oddharmonic said...

I had an older sister, so I got plenty of hand-me-down Barbies, although I didn't really know what I was supposed to do with them. I do remember getting in minor trouble once for pimping them out with nail polish and an extra-fine point Sharpie.

Well-worn copies of craft books and the Boy Mechanic are far more treasured childhood memories for me.

Anonymous said...

When my mom was younger she wasn't allowed to have Barbies because "they had boobs" and that was unacceptable to my grandmother. For some reason my mom thought she was missing out and I just remember being disappointed at Christmas when I got Barbies.

Ally said...

I had 3 Barbies that I got as gifts and my mom threw them out. She told me she didn't want me to grow up thinking I had to look like them. I snuck them out of the trash and put them in a shoebox - that I forgot about until I moved out of the house. Then they got thrown out again.

I didn't really like the Barbies anyway. I preferred my Transformers and He-Man toys. They were so much cooler! What could you do with Barbies? Nothing!

Anonymous said...

I loved my Barbies as a kid, mostly because I imagined Barbie having a really cool job somewhere, a job that paid enough for her to have her own car and her own digs and plenty left over for a fairly cool wardrobe.

When I was taking dance lessons, Ballerina Barbie was my favorite. When I wanted to be a schoolteacher, Barbie became the teacher, and the little "Dawn" dolls were her students.

My favorite clothes, though, were actually the ones made for the Marie Osmond doll. Unlike the fairly cheap things made for Barbie, the Marie clothes were made of excellent fabrics and really well stitched-together. Many years later, when I went through my costuming phase, I would think of those Marie clothes as a weird sort of inspiration.

Almost all my dolls eventually suffered from the amateur haircuts and magic-marker makeup jobs. : )

I outgrew dolls by the time I hit high school, but they remain a fond part of my memory (and hell, you should've seen me freak out over all the iterations of Pademe Amidala dolls--I think I must've collected about four of them).

So I was a peculiar mix of both girlie and nerdy as a kid (no wonder I had no friends in middle school). I never wanted to look like Barbie. I did, however, yearn to look like Jennifer Connelly, so I could marry David Bowie and have a goblin-themed wedding. I wonder if there's a 12-step program for things like that?

coffee said...

After 50 years Barbie is still in great shape; how does she do it?