I have to start this blog with a clear disclaimer: I was one of those girls in the 1960′s whose mothers banned Barbie from the start. Disgraceful, she was (Barbie, I mean) — sexy, scandalous, sinful. What we Catholics called, back then, “a near occasion of sin.” Certainly NOT a toy that the McGuire household would allow!
That was fine with me, I hated dolls anyway. Growing up with five brothers, I was always jealous when Santa left those fabulous Tonka Trucks for the guys while I got some soft squishy baby doll — heaven knows, we had enough real babies around, I didn’t need any dolls!!
But Barbie was banned, and therefore, something dearly desired. (I had no idea why Barbie was banned, but suspected it had something to do with that guy Ken she was hanging with… but not sure why about that, either!)
Of course, since Barbie was such a bad influence, the girls who had Barbies were, well, let’s just say that they were the “bad” kind of girls. I wasn’t too sure what that meant, either — heck, I was six years old! But when I played with my friends, if they started talking about bringing out Barbie, I went straight home. (Some might say it’s a wonder I ever learned enough to be a college president, but in fact, as I went along in school, avoiding “bad girls” made me focus so much more on learning important things like all of the Latin declensions, which of course is essential for this job!)
I was 40 when I bought my first Barbie. A gag gift for a friend (you know who you are!) Bad girls wanna have fun. Old girls wanna have laughs. So, why did I feel just ever-so-guilty walking up to the Kaybee Toys sales counter with this anatomically impossible hunk of plastic? I paid cash. Anonymous is good when you’re buying a Barbie at an advanced age with no child in tow. (Note: Kaybee Toys went bankrupt a few years ago. See what happens to stores who sell Barbie?)
Barbie is now 50. Most of us who have lived half a century have a few outward signs of our age. Not that darn Barbie! It’s amazing how plastic can hold its shape — I guess that’s why some people prefer it as well.
One of the more frightening things I learned doing serious research for this particular blog is that some time ago, the Barbie people and the Star Trek people all got together to put Barbie and Ken into those funny clothes they wear on the Starship Enterprise. I guess they decided that Ken would hold up a lot better in the future than William Shatner.
Wow. No wonder my mother warned me about Barbie.
I realize now, looking back, that my mother’s stern warnings about Barbie also cloaked a latent feminism that rejected Barbie’s obsession with the impossible ideal of female physical perfection. (Feminist? Mom? I’m sure I’ll hear about this!) Rather than worrying about looks, the emphasis in our household was on good behavior and academic excellence. Mom was quite insistent that a girl did not have to have long blonde hair or a 24-inch waist to be a success. (Whew!) Nor should she spend hours on clothing, makeup and hair just to impress that vapid excuse for a man, Ken.
Perhaps the good news about Barbie is this: when so many other icons have fallen from grace in scandal and financial ruin, Barbie just goes on and on fluffing her tresses and trying on dresses. Five decades of trying to stomp her out, psychoanalyze her and remake her image have failed. She remains what she always was: a hunk of plastic designed to make little girls happy, big girls insecure, and moms just wild.