My nieces are coming for a visit next week, so I decided to pick up a few Barbie dolls for them to play with while they were down here. As a mom to three boys I was excited to have them in my house. Knowing what a pain it is to remove toys from their packaging (and somewhat unable to resist the urge to play with them a little myself) I opened the boxes (cut through the bullet-proof plastic and snipped all the little tabs that attached the dolls to the cardboard.)
I was quite disappointed to discover how much Barbies have changed since I played with them back in the 70s. Sure there is more diversity (when I was a kid there was blond Barbie, her black friend Christie, and absolutely nothing in between.) But today's Barbies are made like the cheap knock-offs available when I was a kid. Their legs are no longer soft vinyl covering jointed knees. Their entire bodies are now hard molded plastic. Their legs don't bend (and if they do, there are visible joints) and they no longer twist at the waist. I also found their hair felt flossier...as if it would knot more easily than the glossy poker-straight nylon strands of my childhood.
The Barbies of my childhood were limber. They were gymnasts (in spite of their enormous bosoms) turning somersaults and using the bottom rungs of the clothes drying rack as uneven bars. They were "fully poseable" back then. Now they are mere mannequins. Stiff and straight. Or rather not straight. One of the dolls I bought was posed in such a way that her hips are uneven, as if she's in a permanent catwalk strut, or has severe scoliosis.
I still have one of my old Barbie dolls. A "quick curl" Barbie who I made the mistake of bringing into the swimming pool only to have the little metal wires in her hair (which was how it curled) rust. I didn't bring her to my friends house the day I brought all my other dolls...only to accidentally leave them behind and have them chewed up by her two big dogs. This doll lives in my girlhood bedroom. She was naked for many years until I finally bought her a new dress last summer when I went to visit my parents.
And that brings me to today's Barbie clothes. Poor Barbie has little to choose from in the way of wardrobe these days. Either she's in a pink sparkly swimsuit or a pink shimmery minidress. I know the Barbies of my childhood were not exactly dressed as though they shopped at Talbots, but in their maxi-dresses and bell-bottoms we could at least pretend they were something other than streetwalkers. When I was in high school I babysat for a family where tmid-he mom had kept her early 1960s Barbies and all of their fabulous outfits. Each ensemble had a name like "garden party" or "afternoon tea" and came complete with gloves, hat, shoes, purse. Who knows, she might have felt the same way about her daughter's 1980s Barbies as I felt about the ones I bought last week.