Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Barbie!

It’s a little known fact that a bleach bottle, when cut a certain way and filled with padding, makes a great chair. What is more, a box of tissues, covered in material, can become a perfect bed.
Those are just some of the ways I decorated my childhood Barbie house --- which was actually a three-tiered book case whose shelves I covered with left-over carpeting swatches.
Hundreds of hours of my childhood were spent with my less than one-foot friend, Barbie, and her friends, Skipper, Francie, and Ken, along with an occasional “adopted” baby from another line of toys. Together we would decorate that house, make more faux furniture, become singing sensations, get married, and have babies, all before lunch some days.
Back in those proverbial good-old-days, Barbie’s parent company, Mattel, didn’t release a new “must-have” dream house, sports car, or new, improved doll every season. Sure, I had a few of the commercial items like Barbie clothes and a mod-looking 1970’s camper, but my best memories of my Barbie days are of me pretending, stretching my imagination, being creative.
My bond with Barbie was such a part of my childhood that I felt it mandatory to break up with her when it was time for me to go to that necessary next level of my youth: Junior High School. I was, after all, almost a teenager, and teenagers certainly didn’t play with dolls, did they? Always a proponent of ripping the band-aid off instead of taking it off slowly, I reluctantly said goodbye to and then banished my dolls to my plastic Barbie case under my bed the day before 7th grade began, forcing myself to go cold turkey.
It wasn’t a painless rehab, but somehow I survived, only occasionally sneaking the cherished case out as if it were certified contraband all for the pleasure of checking on my old friends. Still, to this day, when I open up a new shower curtain and get a wondrous whiff of the brand new plastic, my senses take me back to the instant of getting that perfectly new Barbie case for Christmas one year and the childhood memories of my Barbie moments flood over me like refreshing rain.
Now my Barbie in the case is turning 50.
Some of those many years Barbie has been hidden, she might have been glad to be in seclusion Too much time and energy has been spent scaling Barbie’s measurements to that of a woman over five feet tall. It turns out if Barbie were true to size, her real life counter-part’s figure would measure 39-19-33. All that considered, it seems a miracle that during my youth I was fixated on cutting product boxes to make furniture for Barbie instead of cutting out lunch to make myself look more like her.
And now, as she celebrates her golden birthday, someone is sending her a birthday present in an invitation to a vacation to go away and never come back. All this because Mattel has come out with “Totally Stylin’ Tattoos” Barbie that allows little girls to temporarily tattoo Barbie (or themselves) with a symbol such as a butterfly, flower or star. This edgy Barbie is sending some parents and politicians over the edge. According to the Associated Press, West Virginia state lawmaker, Jeff Eldridge, wants to outlaw the sale of Barbie dolls, saying, "I just hate the image that we give to our kids that if you're beautiful, you're beautiful and you don't have to be smart.”
Maybe it’s the fact that my daughters, now in college, are old enough to get tattoos that aren’t temporary; or maybe I’ve been sniffing shower curtains again, but I don’t want anyone shoving my dear old friend forever in her case.
Perhaps it’s the timing of the whole thing. In a week that saw a reality show bachelor profess his love to a woman; break up with her; profess and propose to another; break up with her, and then bounce back to the previous lady he sent packing (who welcomed him with open arms), I don’t think my 11 ½ inch doll is going to be the blame for girls not understanding their true worth.
And in a time where a female singer is allegedly abused by her singing boyfriend, and then announces a happy reconciliation with him before the pictures of her bruised face are out of our minds, I doubt if the illogical proportions of Barbie, with or without a butterfly tattoo, will harm our children’s spirit more.
If only more kids took the opportunity to innocently play in a make-believe world with Barbie these days, maybe they would have the chance to slowly discover who they are without waiting for the “real” world to thrust unauthentic identities upon them. I wish upon the girls of today the hours of imaginative fun I had as a child before my self-imposed withdrawal. Truthfully, though, unless Barbie would appear in a new movie with a rating of PG 13 or acquire her own reality show, kids probably wouldn’t be as interested. There just doesn’t seem to be that much innocent, creative, unplugged play going on now. No more tissue box beds or bleach bottle chairs.
It all makes me a bit sad. Perhaps it’s time to sneak a look in my Barbie case again. Or maybe I’ll buy a new shower curtain.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you 1000%! Kids today need more unplugged time to use their immaginations.
Thanks for saying it so well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that wonderful trip down memory lane. I remember well the Barbie furniture making episodes. What a great time to look through old scraps of material and imagine what we could make out of it. Like the shower head made out of a toothpaste lid- (remember toothpaste lids?!?) Or different size plastic bottles used to make a toilet. Cut pieces of metal hangers bent to shape the towel rods, etc. Like I said thanks for a pleasant trip down memory lane. Joan

JoAnn said...

Oh my goodness! What an absolutely,positively,pleasant reading before bedtime. How I long for those days so very often. Tissue box beds and tissue dresses. The dinners made from playdoh served on consturction paper plates. I could just go on and on. Those were definitely the "good ol days."