Wednesday, December 12, 2012

childhood obsessions: Barbies.

When I was small, I was equal parts tomboy and girlie-girl. I loved playing in the woods, but I insisted upon wearing dresses. I was always dragging turtles and salamanders back to the house, but the sight of a spider would send me running. I hated playing house (which should come as no surprise), but I doted upon my collection of the quintessential girl toy: Barbie.

I wish I could remember which lucky Barbie was my first, but memory fails me. 
It may have been Ice Capades
Barbie, but who knows.
I couldn’t even tell you how many Barbies I had amassed at the end of my Barbie collecting days. I’d venture that the number was fairly impressive.
Don't even get me started on the Happy Meal Barbies.
There was a cowgirl Barbie from an aunt and uncle that I didn’t know I was allowed to play with because it came in a collector’s box. There was the princess Barbie that came with a floofy pink dress and a tiara. 
Pink Princess Barbie and Wedding Dress
Barbie seem to have been good friends.
I even had a Skipper doll, complete with crimped hair and a sparkly bikini. Towards the end of my Barbie days, my tastes changed: instead of fancy Barbies with giant gowns, I asked for career-minded Barbies – Veterinarian Barbie being a staple of my collection.
Complete with pink combat boots.
Most of my Barbies were Christmas or birthday gifts, but there was one Barbie in particular that I earned. When I was very young – I would guess four or five – my mom took my sister and me to get a round of shots at the doctor’s office. Mom struck a bargain with me: if I took my shots like a man, I would get to pick out a Barbie at WalMart. I hastily agreed: I didn’t cry, therefore providing a good example for my two-year-old sister and earning myself a new Barbie. The Barbie I picked had flowing black hair, gold earrings, and a shiny purple bikini – since Aladdin was huge at the time, I’m pretty sure I named her Jasmine.

Many of the Barbies I put on my Christmas list were products of whatever Disney movie happened to be out at the time. I had a Little Mermaid non-Barbie in the early 90s, but it wasn’t until Pocahontas that I got my first bonafide Disney Barbie. I was thrilled: Pocahontas came with a plastic blue necklace and dress that developed a colorful leaf pattern when you left it in the sun. 
Thanks to the internet, I could even find a
glamour shot of the Pocahontas Barbie for you.
Of course, Pocahontas also had a whole mess of hair. One summer day, sick of brushing all that damn hair, I asked my mom if I could give Pocahontas a haircut. She gave me the go-ahead, and I gave it my best shot. I had only intended to give her a respectable shoulder-length trim, but in my attempts to make her ends even, Pocahontas ended up with more of a chin-length bob. That, my friends, is probably why I never wanted to become a hair stylist.

My other Disney Barbie arrived the following Christmas. I didn’t particularly like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I thought Esmeralda was SO COOL. There were two Esmeralda Barbies available that year: normal Esmeralda and Gypsy Dancing Esmeralda. I wanted normal Esmeralda, but ended up with Gypsy Dancing Esmeralda instead, which ended up being great because Gypsy Dancing Esmeralda had a way better outfit.
Plus a singing tambourine!
Speaking of outfits, my Barbies had truly enviable wardrobes. I inherited some of my mom’s Barbie clothes, as she had quite the collection in the 1960s. 
I even got to use her Barbie case!
The rest of my Barbie clothes came from my incredibly talented great grandma Shorty. (Grandma Shorty’s husband was short, hence the nickname. Even though she was not short, Grandma Shorty kept the nickname when it was passed on to her.) Grandma Shorty could sew absolutely anything. She made my grandma Sheila’s wedding dress, and she was known to recreate dresses just by looking at them. Grandma Shorty was a wizard.

Grandma Shorty’s Barbie clothes were exquisite. They were always much nicer than any of the Barbie clothes you could buy. She made me countless outfits: gold harem pants (plus a matching bikini top), a sequined mermaid tail (also with a matching bikini top), and more evening gowns and wedding dresses than I could count. Grandma Shorty would even make matching purses and coats.  My Barbies were always dressed to the nines.
This Barbie is sporting one of Grandma Shorty's
creations: all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Each and every one of my Barbies had a name. Their names would change, but usually they were preceded by “Princess.” There is a home video from approximately 1993 that involves me swanning around with these Barbies, badgering the videographer (my mom) into telling my Barbies how lovely they looked. I would emerge from behind my mountain of Barbie clothes and present the Barbie of the moment. I introduced each one and immediately transformed into the voice of said Barbie. “Hello, I’m Princess Brunhilda,” I would say in falsetto. “Do you like my dress/shoes/earrings/hair?” My mom would tolerantly reply, “Oh, yes, just beautiful.” After about the fifth Barbie, Mom’s patience ran out and her responses became more sarcastic: “Oh, Princess Brunhilda, your hair does look very pretty. Would you tell your friend Calla that she needs to brush HER hair?”

Inevitably, my interest in Barbie dolls waned. The last Barbie I received was the dancing Esmeralda Barbie: Christmas 1996. I would turn ten the following spring, and by that time, Barbie and I had gone our separate ways. It seemed to me that once your age hit the double digits, it was time to cultivate some more sophisticated interests, like feather pens and Hanson. 
VERY sophisticated.
My Barbies have been safely stored in the attic ever since.

Even though I haven’t played with my Barbies for close to sixteen years, I just can’t seem to get rid of them. After all, they’re responsible for a fair amount of dorky childhood memories (see above). In my book, that’s guaranteed immunity from the Goodwill pile.

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