As I was staring at a whole aisle of Barbie products, shopping for an upcoming birthday party, I realized that, whereas I know the whole princess phase starts kicking in about now, I have no idea where three-year-old girls are at developmentally. For example, do three-year-olds want the big doll whose hair they can brush? Or do they want the smaller dolls that are so cute with the snap on outfits? Do they want to dress the dolls yet? Or just walk them up and down their imaginary castles? Are they into the big sister/little sister role model combo? Or are they identifying with… what?
I have a boy, see. If I was shopping for my son I’d immediately go for the smaller versions that came as a set and could be play acted in a variety of scenes, plus fit into really small spaces or easily hung from string, balanced on small cars, survive falls from high places, etc.
I had to accost some poor man, who I overheard on his phone discussing which dolls his daughter already had, (yes, I totally eavesdropped) to ask questions about what little three-year-old girls were doing with dolls these days. (Went for the big doll for maximum dressing and hair styling potential, BTW.) Thank goodness he was there, because I was just sort of lost. I’m great with older girls, from about five all the way up to the teens (I’m the cool aunty). I know that I would have gone ape-shit for all the fairy and mermaid crap if they had that when I was a kid (not so much for the princesses, but I AM a scifi/fantasy nerdette (But still cool.)). But I just wasn’t sure how Barbie was playing on the three-year-old spectrum. And they have A LOT of products nowadays!
I really like Barbie, actually, though my true appreciation of her came after I was a kid. I did a whole paper on her in college; a feminist, post-Freudian analysis of her role as a signifier in our society. My basic theory was Barbie is the original and ultimate Woman because her psyche/sense of self wasn’t defined through a realization that she doesn’t have a penis. Because Ken doesn’t have one. (Because, you know, that’s what Freud thought we were doing… defining ourselves through the lack… it’s tied up with that dumb penis envy theory!) Barbie was also truly the Other woman (in the literary sense of Other), and is simultaneously set apart yet also a source of incredible power in her non-Freudian, therefore self-defining femininity. See? OK, that was probably totally confusing, but it made sense in my paper. (And I got an A, because sometimes being a smartass, backed up with good research works out for you.) Some tidbits from my research… #1 Barbie’s much maligned body proportions were made that way to compensate for the clothes – when you make clothes that small you get an interesting bulkiness in places. Once they adjusted her proportions the clothes looked more “normal” on her. #2 Barbie WAS designed based off a German sexy, joke doll!
I personally find Barbie’s long, evolving history, the early smarmy marketing tactics (more on that later if anyone wants to hear), the feminist/anti-feminist debates, the ongoing controversy she generates – even today with all the over-merchandised princess crap - to be all rather delicious. Whether you like her or not no one can deny that Barbie has power!
However, my love for her as a child was much simpler: I loved the clothes. And the shoes! All those little slip-on mules! Barbie was, in a nutshell, fabulous. However, my family was also kind of poor so I didn’t get many brand-new, Barbie clothes (or new clothes for myself, for that matter). Or I got the K-mart knock-off doll’s duds. Mainly, I made her little outfits myself from fabric remnants, which actually opened up vast vistas of fashion and make believe… my Barbie was an adventurer, a sky-diver as well as a pilot, always in some new place with a new skill; she could take on anything! As long as she could do it in coordinating tube tops and straight skirts (which were also tubes). Because that’s all I could sew. I did have a few snazzy scarves thrown in there as well.
So is it any wonder given my convoluted relationship with her that I, along with buying the birthday gift, ended up buying myself this:
So fabulous! The highly fashionable clothes, the shoes, the retro, come-hither eyes that may just lure away all the men. A dangerous and seductive woman, powerful yet not trashy like a Bratz doll. AND a redhead to boot! (Well, strawberry blonde is close.) How could I resist? - wg
P.S. I also have a preggo Barbie with the detachable tummy. The one they banned from stores! Rockin’!
Addendum: because Creative-Type Dad made me think of this: