My granddaughter is three and a half and loves playing with my Barbies. I have the original Titian bubble-head doll, and my younger sister contributed Midge and Malibu Barbie. I bought a current, more reasonably shaped Barbie to add to the collection, one who could wear current fashion clothes and shoes.
But my granddaughter loves the Malibu Barbie, with the deep tan and long golden vinyl hair that was given a shag by my sister decades ago. There is something about that hair, and washing that hair (which my granddaughter does) and putting her in different outfits.
I am frankly embarrassed by the 1960s pencil skirts and pencil-skirted dresses that require my help to squeeze over the plastic hips. I remember wearing skirts that never allowed a girl to walk full stride. We could only walk in little mincing steps, the better, I am sure, if in stiletto heels. The restrictions placed on women were literal.
My grandchild has the book “Baby Feminists” and can belt out the song from Frozen and is certainly on the path to self-determination. She has her own strong opinions. But there is something in me that has always delighted in Barbie and loves watching her play Barbie the same way I did.
I had sons, not daughters, so I skipped a generation in bringing my dolls out of storage into a new life of grooming, dressing, and conversation. I remember my mother and father talking about whether “grown-up” dolls were appropriate for little girls, and I think I had to be ten to be old enough for Barbie.
I do have some friends who boast of owning the original Barbie doll.
Getting my first Barbie was oh so thrilling, maybe only equaled by getting and reading Beatles fan magazines with my best friend a year or so later.
I remember visiting family friends of my parents and going to the basement to play with their slightly older-than-me daughter. She had the Barbie dream house and all the Barbie accessories, even a car for Barbie. I was so envious.
We are now inundated with marketing for the new movie about Barbie, with Greta Gerwig’s sensibilities attached. I can’t wait to see the movie, and my daughter-in-law wants to see it, too. It sounds like it both celebrates Barbie and embraces the meta-Barbie critiques.
I enjoy seeing Margot Robbie in her pink carpet appearances dressed in real-life imitations (is that a contradictory phrase?) of classic Barbie outfits.
Oh, there were the angry years, when calling someone a Barbie doll was an insult. We critiqued Barbie’s shape, and her dysmorphic body image for girls. Critiquing Barbie was on the continuum with carping about the Miss American pageant, the presentation of womanhood as a parade of Barbies in swimsuits and stiletto heels. I was one of those righteously advocating for alternative role models and on my way to a career well outside the bounds of nurse, secretary, or teacher.
But…there is something about playing with the dolls that pierces right to the heart of the little girl hiding deep inside the old woman. Maybe it’s why I love playing Barbies with my granddaughter. I can pretend away the last sixty years and look for matching shoes and handbags of shiny vinyl in a very petite size.