I hate Barbie- I always have. I mean- I liked my barbie- I only ever had one and her name is Nancy. (I don’t remember why now. Maybe after a teacher I liked?) But Barbie in general, I couldn’t stand. She was always so pink and so perfect- she could do everything well and everybody loved her. I could feel her looking down her nose at bookish me- she might have been friends with me but it only would have been because she felt sorry for me. And all her stuff was glitz and glam and lamé and nothing substantial to it.
Thinking back, I didn’t hate all barbies equally. I loved playing with Nancy and making clothes for her although her face was different from everybody else’s barbie so I could often forget that she was, technically, a barbie doll. (In looking at all the vintage Barbies, she’s the twist and turn with bendable knees… but she seems to have had, originally, the same year talking barbie head.) My Dad traded in my old Barbie doll the year Mattel offered a new doll for an old one plus $1.50 and brought her home to me. I remember it quite well as I had just had my tonsils out and didn’t feel much like doing anything but laying on the sofa. Since I don’t remember my old Barbie at all past the fact that I had one because Dad traded her in, she must have fallen into the ‘I hate Barbie’ category.
And I didn’t hate the Barbies that I got to play with when I visited my Grandmother. The girls across the street had Barbies and when I would come to visit, they would pull them out for me to play with. They were too old, by that time, to be much interested in dolls but they let me play with them and would occasionally play with me. I remember that their dolls had some great theatre outfits… and a record player with records. There were even grooves in the records which delighted my miniature-loving soul.
There was another set too. When we would visit the Cardens, they would send me up to the playroom. All their children were grown and married with children of their own but the playroom was still the play room for grand children and visiting kids. There were wonderful Barbies there (and a set of vintage first edition Oz books! I didn’t need much encouragement to run off and play.) and the clothes! They had evening dresses and coats and matching hats and hose and wonderful pretty pumps. When I went to the store, none of the clothes were anything like that- they were cheap and sleezy and fell apart almost immediately and the shoes were these ugly clunky things.
When my daughters were old enough to begin the Barbie phase, I liked her even less. You couldn’t get a new outfit for Barbie, oh no, you had to buy a whole new doll. Which was just as well because if you took the clothes off, they were immediately tatty rags made out of glitter and lamé. In fact, if you took the doll out of the box to play with, it was almost instantly ragged. Nothing was even hemmed anymore, just surged, and the seams were all surged… and mostly very badly done. It was all fluff and glitter and nothing to it at all.
In the meantime, I had decided to collect dolls. It was the out I was looking for when people would ask me why I still had dolls when I was far too grown up to actually be playing with them. And I had discovered other, wonderful dolls. Dolls that had beautiful wardrobes… or that I planned to make beautiful wardrobes. The ‘I don’t have enough time for all the things I want to do’ phenomenon is not a new thing with me. The ones that interested me most were the french fashion dolls with all their elaborate wardrobes and tiny perfect accessories. Which, by the way, is and always will be far out of my price range! But somehow it was just unsatisfying so I eventually gave up “doll collecting” and only kept the ones that I really just didn’t want to get rid of. This included Nancy, a couple of dolls from my childhood, apart from her, a couple of dolls that I just found too charming to let go of and the rag dolls I made for the girls first Christmases.
So now we come to now. Last week, something got me started looking at the older barbie fashions. And I started thinking about just picking the ones I really liked and giving Nancy the wardrobe I always wanted for her. Which got me to thinking about why I always loved french fashion dolls- the dolls aren’t that pretty at all and they’re not much fun to try and dress- and I think I’m just looking for a doll that has enough of a wardrobe to play with… and made out of good materials so that playing with them won’t destroy them beyond recognition. When I was a little girl, I should have been looking for used barbie clothes at yard sales and good will to get the old clothes with some quality to them. Now, of course, there is Ebay and the internet. I’m not going back to doll collecting… but I might go back to playing with Nancy every once in a while.