Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I am a Total Hypocrite about Porn Star Barbie

My sister and I were Barbie fanatics growing up. We had such fun playing. In fact, we had so much fun playing together---one of our times of playing nicely---and we played with so much imagination that I remain pro-Barbie to this day. The story was the key to me. Was Barbie dressed the part? If so, then all was good.

I never noticed her proportions. I never noticed whether blonde, blue-eyed Barbie was the Cool Chick. Actually, my favorite Barbie was Hispanic Barbie. I adored her black hair, brown skin, and melting black eyes. (The melting part might have been literal once or twice as Barbie aided me in a science experiment. In fact, Skipper bears a few, sad scars to this day, although she hasn't let it get her down if her still-chipper smile is any indication.) I named her Connie.

Back then, Barbie was a doll who had lots of clothes, accessories, and play toys. She wasn't a political statement as far as we were concerned. Many of our friends weren't even interested in Barbie.

Back then there was very little TV at all, and even less TV designed for kids. We had grown past Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, and had begun our Little House on the Prairie and Nancy Drew stages.

Barbie was often a prairie girl who lived in a Lincoln Log cabin. She tended horses, chickens, grew crops, and occasionally hired Ken to help out with a few things. It never occured to us that Barbie wouldn't own her own farm.

Barbie was also a SuperSpy, one of my childhood ambitions. She sneaked under plastic barbed wire wearing a Wonder Woman outfit and protected us against Nuclear War, which those Russians were always trying to export to our country---or, more importantly from my POV, frequently ended my SRA reading time at school for a duck and cover drill (fat lot of good that would do, although it might have made interesting research fodder for future archeologists).

Other times Barbie was a modern city girl. She decorated homes or was a famous journalist, maybe a teacher. All while wearing wrap-around handkerchief skirts, fashionable wide-brimmed hats, and even gloves sometimes. When evening struck, she rode her bicycle to the disco, wearing black spangly outfits with lacy capes and spiky heeled boots.

Unrealistic as the size of her waist and hips, I know. But fun.

The point is, we dedicated an unbelievable amount of time to fun Barbie play. I swear to this day it is the source for my over-developed imagination.

It won't surprise you to learn, then, that I played Barbie long past an age I am willing to admit to. Okay so I was playing Barbie only today.

I have a good explanation for that.

My mother brought a large, plastic storage tub full of the Barbies, clothes, and furniture she saved from our childhood. I'm to pass it along to my little girls.

Over my cold, dead body.

That tub---representing a small portion of our Barbie paraphenalia (whatever happened to our Barbie camper?---is my Walter Mitty.

It is my Rosetta stone, I realized today, as I opened it and pulled out each familiar object. Looking at these wonderfully preserved toys, I caught a sharp glimpse, a flashback, of who I was thiry years ago and how that helped form who I am today.

I dressed my Connie in the outfits I recalled as my favorites, and was ecstatic to see the Ken Olympic Skier outfit still complete. I marveled that the gold, orange, and brown mushroom print bed was ever beautiful to me, although I still found the yellow pantsuit with half-skirt, bolero jacket and hat attractive. After fingering inflatable furniture, spinning Barbie's bike wheels, and even combing Connie's hair, it occured to me that so much of what I rememebred wasn't a dream, or fiction, the story of someone else, as it so often seems, especially the further from childhood I go. My past is actually my past, my story.

Searching for further anthropological evidence of my childhood, I pulled out my Barbie Caboodle Kit and saw that even as a child, I was methodical, organized, and meticulous. The dolls, outfits, and accessories were arranged and in great condition.

I had suspected all of it, but here it lay before my adult eyes: my childhood, untouched for well over twenty-five years, my memories in hard proof.

What I didn't expect---beyond the neatly paired shoes, carefully sorted clothes (Barbie's here, Ken's here, accessories here)---and didn't remember was the collection of Barbie lingerie.

Perhaps to my puerile eyes and mind it was simply underwear, minus the Electric Company logo.

To my adult eyes, it was, "Oh MY GOODNESS, MOM! What were you thinking!" I gasped and laughed, holding up a hot pink racy teddy meant for Barbie. I dug deeper. Were these satin ladies boxers? "Good GRIEF, is this a French Maid's outfit? Are you KIDDING?!?!" and, "A sheer nightgown and robe set? What the...did you buy me porn star Barbie?"

My mother, sister and I stared, and dug deeper, finding more risque Barbie lingerie. We laughed and laughed. My sister and I had never realized, nor had my mother. Maybe back then we didn't have Victoria's Secret to tell us that all of this was S-E-X-Y. Maybe we were just playing, innocently.

Maybe innocence is the key.

My opposition to those Bratz dolls, lingerie for first graders, padded bikinis for 5 year olds, and all the other sexed up and sassy toys out there for little kids seemed suddenly so...hypocritical.

I re-weighed the evidence.

I considered: do we need to view toys not from an adult perspective, but rather from a child's perspective?

How often do my kids use toys in ways other than how intended?

Frequently. I thought ruefully of the boxes (that had housed toys) Persistence became attached to during Christmas.

This is actually my rationale for allowing Barbie in the house.

So why not, then, go for the Bratz and Bratz cousins?

Is it simply because Barbie feels safer to me, because she is so familiar, such a part of my childhood?

Maybe so.

However, I have decided that both points of view are necessary: I have to view toys both from an adult and child's perspective.

So the Bratz and toys of that ilk are still Banned in this house.

As for Barbie, I think she'll remain housed in a tub for most of the time. I'd hate her to take over my daughters' play time. They have so many other, diverse interests that I want to encourage. Patience did get that bug vacuum and science kit for Christmas. Better not let that sit idle. She left it out to play with Barbie, and now we have an Unidentified Bug loose in the house.

copyright 2006 by Julie Pippert

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7 comments:

jen said...

this is an excellent post. i love it. introspective, hilarious, and wow. retro even.

kim said...

awesome post. I was riveted as you walked us through your past.

I sometimes wonder the same thing. For me it's the way the Bratz line is marketed, the values or lack there of. Of course as I look at the bimbo Barbie head my brother gave my daughter I could just be a big fat hypocrite.

Julie Pippert said...

Thanks you two---big compliment coming from you guys!

Kim, I think it is the marketing.

Barbie always seemed like a blank canvas to me. I guess the box might have mentioned a theme, but eh, I tossed that quickly and made her my own.

I don't know *why in the world* I think this can't be done with Bratz et al. But yeah, it's this whole disrespectful sassy deal. And the "oh it's so cute when little girls act like teenagers." Not.

The whole nation gasped and reeled in shock and disgust when our eyes were opened to the Beauty Queen life little pageant girls lead, starting with poor Jon Benet. And then Bratz became the big must-have.

Hypocrite? Confused? Arbitrary line? I don't know. But I drew the line anyway LOL.

Is it that styling Barbie head?

Oh yeah, you also might like to read "What's Wrong with Cinderella?" at the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24princess.t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin)

It had some really interesting theories and comments about the whole Princess trend, something I sort of struggle with. One idea I've been mulling is that it is a reaction to the androngynous 70s. I don't recall it being gender-neutral back then, but I've been pondering.

owlhaven said...

Here from BubandPie. Love this post. It gives my insight into why my hubby still has a bin of Legos in his closet that the kids can only play with while supervised.

Mary, mom to many

Mary-LUE said...

Julie,

While I only had one Barbie and didn't even play with it that much, I'm the same way with the Barbie versus Bratz debate. At Target today they have an aisle and a half dedicated to Bratz merchandise including "baby" Bratz dolls with halter tops. I don't know. It does seem worse to me.

My daughter knows I hate Bratz and I've probably cemented forever her desire for one. She asked me today why I hated them. I told her that I thought they wore too much makeup and wore adult clothing. I don't know if that was a wise thing to say or not.

Maybe one thing that was different back then was that Marsha Brady wore regular clothes but Britney Spears at 15 wore something like Bratz wear. I would never have expected to have a Barbie like wardrobe but little girls wear grown up clothes so often now.

I'm completely rambling. I must stop. But not yet...

I have also noticed that movies I watched as a pre-teen and teenager are movies that I am uncomfortable now letting my teenager watch. I'm not too sure that they did me any great harm but I don't want it for my son. Hypocrite or Older is Wiser? Who knows.

Okay. Rambling done. I really both enjoyed and was challenged by this post. Good job!

Mad Hatter said...

Yup, we all draw those lines. Or rather, we all draw and redraw those lines. I loved my easy bake oven but gol darnit I wasn't going to domesticate my girl---that is until I got her the plastic kitchen for Christmas. Fortunately, she is using it to serve up stir-fried action figures.

Gwen said...

I get the Barbie hate (not yours, I mean in general) but I don't share it. I loved Barbies as a child; we had all kinds of adventures and games with them and I don't spend hours doing my makeup now or getting ready for my date with Ken. I can't demand that my daughters turn out a certain way, and I think in the end, people are so much more complicated than "loves to cook; wears an apron;clutches her pearls." I love to cook and I stay home with my kids, so I seem like I fit a certain stereotype, but in my head, I know it's not true, so it doesn't matter. Which is to say that one of my children got an Easy Bake Oven this Christmas, but she's just as happy constructing slides out of tape and going on nature hikes that include bug and bone collections. Still? NO Bratz in my house, and I haven't even bothered to soul search why that is. It just is. Or in more immortal words, "Because I said so!"