Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dolls and me - then and now

I got to thinking about how long I have associated with and collected dolls while reading this article in Cafe Mom. While I am not a mother, I do like checking this site from time to time, because there are some genuinely funny and touching stories to be told. In this particular post, a woman was wondering about the effects of Barbie - whether or not the hysterical controversies that crop up around Barbie are warranted. Specifically, if the doll would have any sort of effect on her seven year old daughter. Read the article, the answers this young girl gave her mom are surprising and honest.

This is the reaction that many, many hysterical critics of Barbie have received from young girls who apparently have a better grip on reality than they - "It's just a doll."

But even well-meaning and otherwise intelligent parents, like my late father, were a little confused by the implications of a doll that could be seen as a role model of the "ultimate girl." I was the only child of a man who left his native country under fire, and was never able to return, after the government branded him a traitor. To say that I was sheltered and spoiled as a result is probably a huge understatement.

I was something of a mystery to my poor dad, despite his being the eldest of three, and the only son. Boys behaved in certain ways, and played with boy's toys, (cars, trucks, toy guns and so forth) while girls behaved in a different fashion, and played with girl's toys (dolls, tea sets, and make believe jewelry). Dad had never encountered what people here in the US call a tomboy - meaning a girl who behaves as many believe a boy should behave. I liked playing with cars, trucks and toy guns. Unlike the "girly girls" I went to school with, I was highly uncomfortable in the frilly dresses in pastel colors. I liked wearing dark colors or jewel tones, and I liked wearing pants.

Imagine dad's delight when I asked for a Barbie doll for Christmas when I was six!

Malibu Barbie - better known to me as Barb
Imagine dad's surprise when I would discard the pretty, frilly Barbie outfits and take scraps from my mom's sewing projects to make my own costumes for Barb!

Instead of playing house, Barb and I would go on adventures - as the good guys - hunting for treasure, or bad guys to take to jail. Barb, of course, couldn't be out in the forest in a frilly pink dress, because for one thing, it would snag and get dirty - horrors! - it would be hard to run in, if the bad guys came after us, and finally, if we had to hide from the bad guys, neon pink tends to spoil any attempts at sabotage. Barb and I paid CLOSE attention to the movies or TV shows, where someone was almost caught because they were too dumb to know  how to hide properly. I suppose I should also mention that Barb and I watched war movies with my dad, and dad explained the concept of camoflage, when we wanted to know why that guy had all the green stuff on his face, and was wearing that plant costume.

How NOT to be seen
Though it has been years, and I still have Barb - somewhere, in my piles and piles of boxes of stuff I really need to go through - my relations with dolls have changed somewhat. Most of Barb's like-scaled friends have moved on to make room in the cramped apartments I have lived in for the last several years. Barb herself, and several of her cousins, however, are still holding out hope that one day I will at least put them on display in something other than fraying fabric scraps held together with safety pins and duct tape.

Even, today, however, STILL a doll outfit's best friend!

This is back in the day of old school duct tape. None of those fancy dancy colors you kids have today.

Where was this when I was a kid?
I don't "play" with dolls as I did as a kid, because frankly, I am well past the kid stage. But I do still collect dolls, with an almost manic obsession, and at least in computer files, I still go on adventures with them. I was the only child, which means I was something of an outcast, so I spent more recesses in the library than I did on the playground, and I have Southern family on my mother's side, meaning that not only have I heard a lot of stories being told, I also enjoy being a storyteller myself.

Yes, there is a point, and I am getting to it. I still play with my dolls, but in the context  of the stories I am attempting to write. In some cases, I can get past some pretty serious blocks, by bringing out some dolls to fulfill the roles of the characters. What is really odd is that so many of my dolls actually look like the characters I use them for - of course, that is what usually sells the doll or dolls to me in the first place. Only now, instead of scraps of fabric held together with safety pins and duct tape, I hem up quilter's fat quarters, and put my dolls into Technicolor Togas.

All she needs are the scale booze bottles and the lampshade and you have a toga party animal!
Like the young girl interviewed by her mom in the article I refer to above, I like to think I have a pretty healthy relationship with my dolls. While they are quite enjoyable to have around, particularly in my case as  muses, I have never unfavorably compared myself to them. I never wondered why I was not as pretty as Barb. I felt kind of sorry for her that she couldn't do what I could - move freely, change her own clothes, talk, read, or even have a mom and daddy who loved her.


  1. Hello from Spain: I enjoyed reading your personal story and get your first Barbie. I'm glad to read that still preserves your Barb. We keep in touch.

  2. I also put my poor Barbies through many dirty and sometimes fatal adventures! They brought out a lot of creative play for me and my sister. We never compared ourselves to them. We even dressed up as Barbie for Conventions and had a blast. My girls have my old Barbies and some new, I have no fear of them confusing their own body imagse for a piece of plastic.

  3. Fancy dancy duck tape. :) Tee hee!

  4. This was a great post about the power of "play"; even when the activity involved isn't anything like what you did as a kid.


We welcome your thoughtful, on-topic, and relevant comments. We'd love to start a discussion here.

Please note that links, off-topic, and irrelevant comments won't be published.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...