I spent a great deal of my childhood playing with dolls. Recently, I was looking back through my baby book and realized my mom had a tradition of giving me a Christmas doll every year. She still has most of them… who am I kidding? She has ALL of them, safe and on display in her living room. These were special dolls, ones I didn’t play with, mostly Madame Alexander‘s, including the First Ladies series (the presidents’ wives in their inaugural dresses). They were kept safely in a glass front, display cabinet. I took them out from time to time to look them over, read the names and the descriptions on the cards about their lives.
The dolls I mainly played with were Barbies. My mom didn’t care what happened to my Barbies, if I cut their hair or mangled their legs. She loved dolls when she was a child and was reliving some of her own desires with the Alexander’s, hence the need for them to be kept safe.
But that’s a story for a different time.
My Barbies and my Barbie Dream House were some of the most versatile toys I had. I spent hours in front of that doll house, setting up the furniture, rearranging and moving items, acting out scenarios between whatever Barbie was my favorite at the moment and her roommate or friends. I had the obligatory Ken doll and I occasionally had them go on dates, but I was far more interested in Barbie’s life on her own than reenacting a romantic comedy.
I have a distinct memory of making textbooks for my Barbie when she was going to vet school. I took paper and pencils and folded and glued the pages together and then wrote several sentences about animals in each book. They were as profound as, “Dogs have four legs and bark.” There may have been pictures, too. Ah, my early impressions of what grad school might be like!
I don’t remember thinking I wanted to look like my Barbies. I didn’t look at her curves, or impossibly small waist, and high heeled molded feet and think, “This is what it means to be a woman.”
I know that isn’t how cultural norms work, but I do remember needing to be worried about my weight from a young age, not because I was overweight, but because I have many, many memories of my mom talking about needing to lose weight herself.
Barbies were an outlet for imagination and even though I had watched the Disney Princesses, my dreams and plans for my Barbie had a lot more to do with making her own life. Her dream house wasn’t a house she shared with a husband, I didn’t dress her in wedding gowns, or have storylines that revolved around Ken at all. He was just another accessory in her fantastic life. Just like that little shower you can see in the picture, kept outside the actual house but fun to fill with water and play with from time to time.
I don’t know how I managed to be the child that looked past all the narratives we’re told about romantic love and unrealistic body expectations and make my Barbie stories my own. It just seemed logical to me, I think.
It was a Barbie Dream House, after all; not Barbie and Ken’s Dream House.