Thursday, September 4, 2008

Yet Another Early Influence

There she is in all her glory - the first Barbie. My friend Patty Gardiner (the same friend who had all the cool postage stamps) was the first in our neighborhood to own this Barbie Doll. I lusted after that doll! Those curly bangs, those teeny sunglasses, those little high heels...gimme!!!
And I was not the type of girl who had been terribly interested in dolls up till this point. What was the attraction?? Well one thing is the scale of the figure. You can hold her in one hand and wrap your fingers right around her waist (maybe there's more than a bit of King Kong in little girls?? Or in me???)

There are some wonderful books out there about the origins, the psychology, and the social implications of Barbie. All I know is I had an immediate attraction to this little figure. And I'd not seen a television commercial about Barbie. I saw the doll for the first time when Patty took her out of her case to show me as we sat on her bedroom floor that day back in 1962. And I wanted her. I asked for a Barbie for Christmas that year and was so disappointed to get a Barbie wanna be - cheaper plastic - cheaper clothes.
I eventually did get the real thing and spent years playing with that doll. I sewed and knit clothes for her. My grandmother made her some amazing things. Gram had several Simplicity and McCalls patterns for Barbie clothes. I remember specifically that she made her a red velvet coat with snaps down the front and a trio of tiny white pearls sewn in a cluster over each snap, and a miniscule knitted white collar. I can still recall the satisfaction and the sound of snapping those teensy snaps. And even though I made alot of Barbie's clothes, it was equally thrilling to save up some money from the paper route, and head up the street to Nyanza (another early K-Mart sort of place) and purchase a new ensemble for my doll. The little accessories just killed me.

There were many hours spent sitting on blankets in our yard under the willow tree with my sister Sue and our girlfriends, playing Barbie. We never owned any of the junky Barbie Houses or Barbie Automobiles. We made couches and beds from books covered with handkerchiefs, and Barbie bathtubs were bowls filled with water with a tiny bar of soap made from a piece carved from the big cake of Ivory in our bathroom.

And I remember exactly when I stopped playing with Barbies. Seventh grade. Then it seemed like something only little kids did. I wonder now, though, if all that time leading up to adolescence, playing with Barbies was a sort of rehearsal. Let's forget for a moment Barbie's impossible figure and just look at her purely as a doll that represents a young woman. And when my body actually started to morph into young womanhood, and I actually started to embody some aspects of the doll (and again I stress looking at the exaggerated features of the doll as merely hinting at what a woman's body can become) that I didn't need her or want her anymore.
Funny, though, how I went on to develop a love of the figure...

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