– by Joanie!
I was not your typical “girl” growing up. I wasn’t set on being a Disney princess, my favorite color was not pink, and I wasn’t really that into dolls.
I preferred tree climbing and water guns and I used my playhouse outside as a pirate ship rather than for “playing house.” The kids in the neighborhood were mostly boys, with one other tomgirl, and it wasn’t unusual for me to be exploring the woods or poking at things with sticks through that drain pipe down the street I was not allowed to play in.
Sorry, Mom, I didn’t listen.
Somewhere in all this there were some Barbie dolls. And I was rough with my playing—dragging them through the mud, leaving them outside, cutting off all of their hair and leaving them piled up, naked, in the plastic tubs my mom bought to organize our toys, looking a bit like some pictures I’ve seen of Holocaust victims.
I apologize profusely to any Holocaust survivors and their families who read this blog for my uncouth metaphor. Seriously, though, if you’d seen the Barbies piles, you’d be less offended. Or more. I’m not sure which. I digress.
My sisters were the same with their Barbies—or rather, our Barbies, since it was impossible to keep track of individual ownership of toys whose accessories were choking hazards, in our house, at least.
Now, I was very excited at the birthday party where I received a three story Barbie house with an elevator as my present. It meant that each of the two Kens could take turns marrying Barbies taken out of the plastic tub, only for the “female” dolls to be tossed back in when their turn was done. In hindsight, it makes me sound like I made my Ken dolls either pimps or serial rapists. My childhood treatment of these dolls could be made into one of those Lifetime horror movies.
Perhaps the best use the Barbie house received was when we got the hamster (see earlier post about Samantha the hamster), who would enter Barbie and Ken’s bedroom via the elevator, and attack them as if it were one of the “Rodents of Unusual Size” from The Princess Bride. Attacks from monster hamsters and some of my larger toys were frequent themes in Barbie’s house of terror.
Then there was Barbie’s convertible, which frequently took trips off of the diving board at my grandmother’s pool. Ken had been driving drunk, and he and Barbie faced the consequences of driving irresponsibly.
I watched a bit too much tv then, I think.
I rarely thought of Barbie as I got older, and only got a few reminders as angry parents complained about how Barbie was making their daughters feel bad about themselves, and that the doll was contributing to eating disorders, including this video where a high school student made a life-size version of what Barbie would look like with her skewed measurements.
My experience with Barbie was that of fantasy and imaginary world—she wasn’t realistic and I knew that. I doubt I would have performed as many cruel experiments on her if she were. I mean, seriously, I couldn’t even get her elbows to bend, unless of course I heated up those plastic arms over the gas grill or with one of my dad’s butane lighters…
…wow I was a dark child.
At the same time, I can certainly see why parents worry about the influence of an unrealistic body image on their child’s self worth.
I understand even more so now that I have a niece. She’s too young for such toys now—all those little shoes would provide a tasty treat for her and a terrifying trip to the hospital for my sister and her husband. But soon, she’s going to be old enough for Barbies, and I hope, for her sake as a happy, healthy adult, that she’s as sadistic and sociopathic with her Barbies as I was, and that when she’s done playing with them, their too-skinny bodies with unnatural quadruple-D cups will be tossed, carelessly, back into the plastic bin from which they came.