Saturday, March 7, 2009

Happy Birthday Barbie.

Women tend to have a love-hate relationship with Barbie. A lot I know hate her. Me? Well, for some weird reason, I just love her. I still collect dolls and action figures, and I never, ever saw Barbie as some forced ideal or Blonde Goddess that I had to become. Maybe I had a nice solid upbringing by a feminist mother, but to me, I always thought Barbie's proportions to be laughable and just easier to get clothes on. I much prefered Hasbro's moulds for their Jem dolls. At the young age of 9 I lauded their realistic design to my family.

"Look, Mummy!" I said. "Her boobs are normal! That's what boobs look like!"

And I still prefer my Jem dolls to this day. But I can't ignore what a huge and positive impact Barbie had in my life.

She could be anything. In the Barbie aisle of the toy store, I'd be in awe. She was a cook, a horse rider, a tennis player, a princess, a pop singer, a business woman, a mother (I didn't realise that the babies and the little girl Barbies were supposed to be her sisters at the time). It didn't occur to me that she wasn't a construction worker, or a head of a company, or some other traditionally male role. It never even entered my mind that Ken was somehow essential to her existence. I felt more than he was an accessory, as was her horse and her friends and her deliciously deep pink 87 corvette (which I still own, buffed, additionally decorated with remote control car decals as it is).

The thing that I loved about Barbie, the thing that I remember and still love, is that the bitch had choices, damn it. She had opportunities. And sure, there are huge problems with her image and the inherent sexism in the marketing, but I can't ignore the fact that Mattel have at least *attempted* to be politically correct. I'm undoubtedly cynical as to the reasons why, but those are things for us to worry about - the grown ups.

Kids don't know about profit. They don't know about marketing image. They don't know about women's rights or any of those things, not really. I didn't.

All I knew was that Barbie was a beautiful doll who had friends and could go on adventures. She was *my* dollie, who I could put in any outfit I could scrounge together with scraps of material or, if I was very lucky, new clothes bought for me at either Christmas or my birthday. Yeah, I was frustrated with her shortcomings - her waist was too small, her feet were too tiny and her boobs didn't sit right. But that's okay, she was only a plastic dolly and not a *real* person.

Barbie, for me, was an avatar. An avatar where I could explore my dreams and my ambitions. I can't see anything bad about a little girl doing that. Should these dolls be more realistic with their body image? Hell yes. Mattel has got a lot of shit they need to sort out.

I can't blame them solely for something that is ingrained into our very culture. Before Barbie, us girls had baby dolls to take care of. Since Barbie, we've had a doll that's had jobs, friends, opportunities, dreams and *choice*. I can't ignore that, and I can't turn my back on a beloved thing of my childhood.

I loved my first Barbie doll. I still have her. Half her hair fell out from me brushing it too much. She's very tan and blonde, as was the fashion from the early 80s. I remember being with Dad when he bought her. I was so excited. She had pool parties and she was a rock star. She had a love affair with my brother's 12" C3P0 toy and struggled with the reality of dating a sentient robot. (Yeah, I was a strange kid). And she fell off cliffs a lot. Had to get saved. Yeah, I dunno.

She was a childhood friend and a tool of my imagination. I still cherish her to this day.

Happy Birthday, Barbie.

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