This article from SheKnowsDaily popped up in my inbox recently, and I was incredibly excited to click it and be pleased to find someone talking about just letting toys be toys and not political statements. More than pleased. Rather ecstatic, as a matter of fact. Growing up, I freaking loved Barbie. I had the best collection out of all my friend, topping out at I think 86 different dolls at my peak, including nine Kens (well, eight Kens and one Aladdin). That was a big deal, because most of my friends only had one or two Kens. It wasn’t all girl friends, too, as my brother had a friend who also liked playing Barbies with me, too. I also played G.I. Joe and Ninja Turtles and He-Man with my brothers, and my little brother and I both put together my Polly Pockets and his Mighty Max playsets to create one big, awesome world where they could all interact (a few of my Barbies may have dated Ninja Turtles, too).
See, and that was the brilliant thing about Barbie and all those other toys. Never, not once, did we keep it restricted into some sort of stereotyped form of play. We mixed and matched. We blended different things. Most importantly, it expanded our creativity and imaginations in fantastic ways. I would spend hours making up different fashions for my dolls and then putting them to play in epic stories filled with intricate relationships and plots. Sometimes, it was a soap opera. Sometimes, they were battling dragons. Sometimes they were doctors and sometimes they were trying to help take down evil Skeletor and Shredder plots. As I got older (and I seriously played with that shit until I was fourteen), it also became an outlet for exploring and accepting sexuality, though I didn’t know it at the time. Growing up in a small town overrun with Catholics, I didn’t have much room for anything outside of cookie-cutter heterosexuality, so I channeled it through my dolls. In my world, there was nothing wrong with the fact that two Barbies had a relationship, or that Aladdin was trying to seduce Ken away from his girlfriend. Not only that, my cousins and I would spend time at my grandmother’s picking through fabric scraps and designing our own clothes for Barbie, as well. They weren’t really all that good, but it was such a great outlet and creative project. I also loved the femininity tied in with Barbie, because, with two brothers and being raised by a father, it was nice to have something girly to call my own.
Never once did I feel I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t look like Barbie. Perhaps I was lucky because I had a really great variety of different dolls (blonde, brunette, white, black, Disney, and I always decided that Aladdin was Jewish because you couldn’t remove his hat and I thought it looked like a yarmulke), but my experiences were only positive and truly helped develop a sense of who I was and developed my creativity wonderfully. I have a lot of fond memories tied in around playing with Barbie growing up, to the point where the nostalgic part of me is almost thinking of collecting them (and maybe sometimes playing with them, shhh) again (my current collection has since fallen into the hands of the daughters of a man my mom used to date; tragic to think that they might be gone for good since they had a bad falling out, but it’s so pleasing to know that some other little girl is out there building the same sort of incredible memories that I built when I was her age).
So, what do you think? Are the objections related to Barbie mostly constructs of a parent’s perception? Do kids not care or process these things, or is my experience an exception?