Sunday, March 09, 2008

I am a Total Hypocrite about Porn Star Barbie

In honor of Barbie's birthday today, I thought I'd re-post my famous (infamous) post about 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 paraphernalia (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 thirty 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 carefully and neatly sorted 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
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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18 comments:

slouching mom said...

Oh, this is great. And I think it speaks to a POV I've held for a long time -- children are not as suceptible to things as today's parents believe them to be.

Today's children, they deserve a little more credit. Too often, they are being infantilized, and woe to the culture when they become grown-ups in body but not in soul.

slouching mom said...

that's suSceptible.

le35 said...

My mother never let me own a barbie. She watched her neices play with them versus baby dolls and realized that sometimes Barbie went on dates while baby dolls were used more as little pretend infants to be mothered. I have worked to keep that tradition. Barbie is banned along with Bratz and other types of dolls. . . However, every household needs to have its own boundaries. At this rate, I'm just hoping that every household has SOME boundaries.

painted maypole said...

i have a box of barbies from my youth that my mom saved, too! and i haven't shared it with MQ yet. it's still in the attic. ;)

Re: Bratz. When you name the doll BRATZ i think you are saying something. I won't let my child wear a t-shirt or pair of socks that says "brat," why would I let her play with a toy that says it?

Oh. And I've written you a limerick. I hope you like it!

liv said...

i have a box of barbies in their original boxes. don't tell anyone.

Catherine Morgan said...

I wanted you to know, that I nominated you for Women's Voices Making History. Your blog is on my list of over 300 women blogging about politics, and I am currently going through it, and nominating blogs that I think are most worthy. Anyone can nominate a blogger, so if you have others you would like to nominate, all you have to do is go to the site at Women's Voices, Women Vote. :-)

Best,

Catherine

Mamma said...

I was going to say that bugs are way cooler than Barbie any day, but as I think of it your daughters would probably make a better living as a fashion designer rather than an entomologist. And how sad is that??

crazymumma said...

A very wise mother of three daughters, all of whom she home educated, told me, when I was agonizing about To Barbie or Not To Barbie, she said, Anne,get over it. They are just dollies.

Jeff said...

You could probably sell all that stuff on eBay and make enough money buy your kids appropriate b-day and Christmas presents for the next 3 years.

As you can tell, I'm not much for toy sentiment. Probably because I'm in denial after losing my favorite GI Joe in a parachuting jump gone bad.

Amy@UWM said...

LOVED Barbie too and wish my girls liked Barbie as much as they like the Bratz.

Know what you mean about the Barbie lingerie. But if you were a Brady fan, you'll recall that Carol Brady wore a few chiffon-y nighty numbers on the show that barely came past her hips. My Barbie had one too. Alas, the 70's...it was a different time...

Mayberry said...

Oohh, I missed this last time -- thank you for reposting. Love it.

atypical said...

Now see, Jeff beat me. I was going to say you could probably hock it all and at least get a new vacuum. ;)

-t (yes, still alive, but still haven't managed to blog)

Izzy said...

We have Barbie dolls here. Lots and LOTS of them, most were received as birthday party gifts and I think every single one came in some kind of princessy ball gown (I have to admit I LOVE those dresses. They're actually quite beautiful).

I'm less inclined to admit that we also have two Barbie "My Scene" dolls that are similar to Bratz in that they have those weird big eyes and the lips are a bit more collagen injected than good old normal Barbie. They came with clothes that weren't particularly slutty, unlike 90% of Bratz, but they were definitely less conservative than anything Barbie would wear. I guess I'd call them clubbing clothes or "going to the bar" clothes or "I have a hot date tonight" clothes. And they have tattoos on their ankles (but tattoos are nothing unusual in our household so that's a non-issue). Oddly enough, the most objectionable thing about these Bratz wannabes are their shoes. Seriously, their shoes say "You wanna date?" or "Ten dolla, no holla, baby!" or "Would you like a lapdance?"

All of this to say that while I hate Bratz, because the things I do find objectionable about them are so unapologetically skanky (Baby Bratz--ack!!!) I do agree that my daughter definitely doesn't see things the way I do. So...I begrudgingly say little about the stripper shoes and the thigh high boots other than that they are ridiculous and just let her play with the damned My Scene dolls.

Bratz, however, will never receive the same treatment because no matter HOW my daughter views them, I loathe them and and that's good enough for me.

By the way, Moms Speak Up is back on the air after a brief hiatus in bad web host land.

Family Adventure said...

Having only boys, Barbie is a non-issue in my household. What is more of an issue is the toy weaponry boys get infatuated with nowadays. The war games, real or on computer/playstation/ds. Ack!

Great post, Julie. Hope you're having a good day.

Heidi

Tere said...

Julie, I love this post! You captured so well my own childhhood feelings about Barbie - I loved playing so very much. I can still see my Barbie McDonald's and fashion boutique, as well as this awesome bathtub with a hose/spray you could actually pull out. Damn, I still long for the Barbie Dream House my best friend had, but which my parents said was too expensive! And I still remember forcing myself to give her up because none of my friends played anymore and I felt so babyish compared to them.

jennifer h said...

Next time you pull those out, can I come over?

Even if I had my Barbies, I'm not sure I would give them to my daughter, at least not yet. A few of hers are missing arms or legs. Or heads.

And the Electric Company! I loved that show. I can still sing that Spiderman song.

Bratz are banned from our house, too.

Robert said...

My equivalent imagination creation was Playmobil. Back then, they were mostly non-descript people and animals, sort of like large Lego people without the blocks (though I used Legos to build their houses). My Mom would help me paint them sometimes so I could make them into pirates or cowboys or whatever I wanted. It was a lot of fun for me as a kid to "make" my toys that way. Now they make them already as pirates, knights, whatever. It's still really fun and neat to see them, but I do wonder sometimes how much it takes away from the imagination.

Gwen said...

Lucy is sitting next to me playing Barbies right this minute.

I had them growing up and they were one of the least damaging parts of my childhood. I do think as adults we over-sexualize everything, far beyond what our children even see (although I do remember the Francie (?) Barbie whose breasts would grow when you twirled her arm.) Yesterday my children were playing with their baby dolls and giving birth to them, which was way more disturbing than anything I've ever seen them do with their Barbies. And they played an entire exciting game using those sparkly craft puff balls yesterday, too. They constructed houses and named the balls and made color coded id cards ... when they can be entertained by a puff ball for hours, I don't worry too much that Barbie is ruining them. At least not as much as American Idol is .....