Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Searching for Barbara Millicent Roberts

Deb: I learned a lot about fashion from Barbie. I would buy (or rather my Mum would buy) the wonderful little Barbie outfits and I would study them and mix and match and examine the fit and the flare. Barbie had it goin’ on in the 60’s, let me tell you. So much so that I could never bring myself to punish her by purchasing a Ken doll. I had Skipper and Scooter and even Miss Teenager was thrown in there for good measure. But Ken? Are you kidding me? Ken sooooo looked like a plastic doll, but Barbie looked like my friend. So to honour her, I simply imagined her boyfriends. In my Barbie world, she dated John Lennon and Paul McCartney (at different times of course) and Herman of Herman’s Hermit’s and Mark Linsday from Paul Revere and the Raiders. She dated astronauts and athletes and Johnny Locking, the boy next door to us on whom I had a huge crush.

And all through this dating frenzy, Barbie never missed the mark when it came to choosing the right outfit to go with the occasion. Be it beach or museum, library or ball, her taste was impeccable. I studied her for all I was worth, soaking it up like the skinny tiny fashion sponge that I was. And even when bendable Barbie came in she knew to keep the outfits fashion-forward but flexibly appropriate.

So it is with this in mind that I have found myself lamenting the downfall over these last years in young girls’ fashion. Gone is the style and chic whimsy of outfits inspired by the likes of “Busy Gal” or “Friday night date” or “Solo in the Spotlight”. They’ve been replaced with “Skanking at the mall”, “Show my bum-crack at the dance” and “Exposed bellies are always appropriate”. And it’s not just the skank factor. There is no thought or form to any of these clothes. And why? Because of Barbie.

Barbie no longer exhibits taste. She is all about the trendy, the flashy, the sparkly and tacky, and the cheap. And so it goes with the Barbie Girls. And heaven knows there are exceptions to this. I always have hope when I see a kid wearing something stylin’ or outrageous but purposeful and personal. But for the most part, I am not impressed. I just can’t stand lazy ugly trendy fashion that lowers the fashion IQ and is devoid of flair. So many young girls today look like lost clowns. Who will save them from their fashionless, tasteless existence? Not Barbie. Barbie sold her horse and her Dream House is now a timeshare.

And Barbie can’t talk, she can only show. 
But that won’t help cause Barbie’s gone “ho”.

Barbara: I never thought to blame Barbie for our current fashion woes. But you might have something here, Deb. We’ve spent years now debating Barbie’s relevance and her assault on the feminist movement and her bad example to young girls everywhere. But I gotta say, my girls played with her as much as I did—even though I vowed to make her scarce around these parts. I didn’t want anyone accusing me of holding back the feminist movement, for godssake. Down with sexism. Equality for all! … Um, where was I? Oh, right. Barbie’s fine example.

I think you have something here, Deb. Because I never worshipped Barbie for her “50s woman” supposed ideals (that was serving martinis, keeping the kids quiet, and her impossible figure, right?). No, I worshipped her because of her wardrobe. Her endless sassy selection. Her interesting, unique taste. She really, truly had it going on. And as much as I’m not a fashionista, I knew a good outfit when I saw one. And I’m sure SURE she influenced me in my own burgeoning style. In a good way.

And when Barbie slowly finagled her way into my grown-up house and somehow managed to become a toy of preference for my daughters, they seemed to play with her for the same reason. They were forever changing her outfits and hairstyles (oh, the assaults in our household on Barbie’s expensive hair). They didn’t covet her relationship with Ken or her ability to stand perfectly straight while serving pretend martinis. I let go of my newly-conceived notions about Barbie and let my daughters do their Barbie thing. And they still turned out independent, confident, and secure (and, okay, pretty fashion-savvy). But they never wore bum-shorts or crop tops. So either they missed Barbie’s turn down the trash aisle or they rose above it.

I’m sad Barbie’s gone “ho”. But kinda tickled I found out her full name. Hello, Barbara Millicent Roberts. Now stand up straight and be an icon.


  1. Wonderful. One of my friends works high up at Mattel in the Barbie world. Would love to send her your blog today? Can I?

    I never ever played with Barbie as I think she was after my childhood and having boys they never played with her either. My two granddaughters are still a little young so it is yet to be written whether they will love Barbie or not. I think American Girl is their choices now at 3 and 4.

  2. Madge, yes! Love it! Would love to know what your friend at Mattel thinks about the whole Barbie debate.

  3. Yes indeed Madge. Please let her know it's all in fun...kinda xo

  4. I had Barbie's friend Midge, too. Remember her? Brunette with freckles.

  5. I had Midge too but an evil little girl burnt her hair. Painful memory!!!

  6. The decapitated Barbie head is perhaps the defining symbol of my youth.

  7. I am so in agreement with this post...Barbies clothes were a la Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy...all the little heels matched the outfits..and do you remember the cocktail dress and the bridal gown!!! OMG...I would have died for that bridal gown...I loved the little book that came with each outfit...the little book of fashions you could buy...that little book was my first Dream Book...(which was much later usurped by the Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalogue!!) I think Barbie..with her impossible waistline..perfectly shadowed eyes and forever arched feet was a fashion icon that little girls could hope to one day emmulate and it wasnt really a bad thing...I mean what could feel more grown up than a garden dress with a fitted waist and swirling hemline..accented with white kid gloves ...white heels and a huge wide brimmed sun hat...and lets not forget the little bouquet of flowers which came with the outfit..perfect for having Tea with the Queen in her garder.! Why not aspire to such things....??

  8. MJ you killed me with the head. Ahhhh memories of my little brother. And Melody you made me pine. And yes I know some would say that Barbie's clothes are still fun but they have no taste. Why not teach taste???

  9. I wonder if this just demonstrates everything wrong with me. See... I grew up a poor kid... I didn't have REAL Barbies, but the fake, non-bendy-knee variety, and the clothes were as cheap as my hand-me-downs. I never had a ken because there WASN'T a cheap fake Ken, so I cut off the hair of a DIFFERENT cheap fake Barbie and Barbie dated HER. erm. him. with boobs. Though I wasn't much for the play ANYWAY. Mostly I made clothes and furniture for the lot of them out of fabric scraps and kleenex boxes, all the time wondering why pinking sheers didn't play a more prominent role in human fashion.

    As for Barbie going Ho--better that than Disney Princess *rolls eyes* Oh GAWD I'm jaded. If you'd like to be jaded too, perhaps you should check out the best selling Ken doll ever:

  10. *happy gasp!* BARBIE!!! Oh dear, I may fill 2 or 3 comments' worth of characters on this one! DEB! BARBIE! HAPPY! YEAH! SQUEEEEEE!!! I must gush! MUST! PLAYING BARBIES!!! SQUEEEEEEEE!!!! Deb, you are SO a woman after my own heart!!!

    I grew up playing with my mother's Barbies. She let me use her 1962 Bubble Cut Brunette Barbie
    and her Skipper, Ken, and Allen. I also got handed down a box of clothes for Barbie and her entourage that my Gram (great-grandmother) had sewn for my mother to have to play with when she was a little girl. I still have those Gram sewn Barbie clothes packed away. I used to have my mother's original dolls displayed on my wall, but she recently took them back when Mattel issued the commemorative Barbies for the big birthday. She bought the new version of her old Barbie and set up a display of all of them in her house. Her old Barbie and Skipper are wearing my favorite Gram-sewn clothes. Barbie is wearing a lovely satin wedding dress that has aged to dark ivory. And, Skipper is wearing a poofy dress made of red netting that, well, I guess it's a cocktail dress, but I'm sure that's NOT how Gram (teatotalling, strict Presbyterian farmwife) labelled it. LOL

    Of course, over childhood, I added some of my own "new" Barbies to the mix, Barbies of the late 70's and early 80's, and their fashions and accessories (but no "new" Barbie dress EVER topped the Gram-sewn wedding gown). I remember one Barbie had gold, shimmery streaks in her hair and came with disco-y clothes. One came with yellow and aqua mix and match clothes. I can't remember all the others exactly. I got a newer Ken - all muscle bound and beach babish. (For the record, I have ALWAYS thought Ken was a total putz.) I got one Barbie that came with a small plastic case of a bazillion teensy tinsy accessories like a little bitty plastic lipstick, compact, and powderpuff for the doll. I remember that Barbie had fluffy marabou feathers on her high heeled houseshoes. *rolls eyes, WTF?* My favorite was one that I saved up for FOREVER and required lots of good report card grades. She came with what I thought were the most beautiful clothes. Here she is, Pink and Pretty Barbie from 1981:

    One thing, though, was that only my mother's Barbie was BARBIE. All the other Barbie dolls, I gave their own names. For example, the one that came with the yellow and aqua mix-and-match outfits, I named Stephanie. I'm racking my brain, but I can't remember the others. I think there might've been an Athena. I was really big on the name Athena when the original Battlestar Galactica was on the air in the late 1970's. (When I was little, I used to say that if I grew up and I had a daughter, I was going to name her Athena Cassiopia. Between my being named after a star and the prenicious influence of late 1970's science fiction, how could I have daydreamed otherwise? ;) )

    My mother hit garage sale paydirt one time. I got a 3 story Barbie house with manual elevator for maybe $2? $3? I was so completely chuffed to have a Barbie mansion in my little pale green bedroom with green gingham Holly Hobby bedspread - that Barbie house consumed sooo much of the space in my room LOL. OK, I just looked it up online. It was the 1980 Barbie Condo.

  11. My fondest Barbie accessory memory was when I was really little. This was probably, oh, maybe 1978. A missionary couple on furlough had come to be a part of my church's Vacation Bible School (when I was little, my parents still went to church). The couple stayed with us (we lived just around the corner from the church, which was across the street from my elementary school -- my world was 1 block big except for going out to the beach LOL). I still have a pocket New Testament the missionaries gave me. Anyway, when they were leaving to go onto the next church that was hosting them, the missionary man gave me a $5 bill. That was basically a lottery win to my little self who got 25cents/week allowance! LOL Mama took me to the Sears at the mall (big woohoo for me - In the foodcourt, there were big fish aquariums to watch and a hot air balloon that went up and down in front of the Jack's Hamburgers. And, a few times a day, there was a marionette show in a little stage area for children at one end of the mall. And, when I was 4, at that mall, another kid pushed me backwards off the steps to the slide in the play area, and I fell and split my head wide open and a policeman took me and my hysterically freaked out mother in his police car to the hospital, and I got stitches in the ER - I bled A LOT, but I wasn't scared until my dad showed up, and then I realized that I must be hurt bad if my mom had called my dad out of work LOL), and I bought a Barbie set that was an airport (but no planes). Barbie worked the reservation's counter. I remember it had a map of the continents with lines indicating flight paths and lots of clocks I could move the arms on to show that there were different times around the world (which completely fascinated me). (Of course, over the years, feminism took Barbie from behind the ticket counter and into the cockpit!)

    I didn't get official Barbie vehicles like the pink Corvette. I'd save up and take $3 or $4 to Kmart and get generic, plastic vehicles that Barbie and crew could fit into. The one I remember best was a big, black and brown, plastic Jeep from Kmart I got with money I got from putting some of my outgrown toys in a garage sale.

    One eyebrow-raiser I do remember from childhood is the Wonder Woman - Barbie mismatch. In the late 1970's, I was ALL about Wonder Woman. I had a Wonder Woman swimsuit complete with blue butt with white stars. On the first day of 1st grade, I was THRILLED to wear my new, yellow, Super Friends Justice League tennis shoes. I was Wonder Woman for Halloween. I watched Super Friends Justice League every Saturday morning. I colored a picture of Wonder Woman (OK, noone else could probably recognize my crayon scribble as her, but I KNEW she was Wonder Woman), and taped it to an empty jelly jar. My mother took a slotted screw driver and a hammer and pounded a coin slot into the lid. That became the jar in which I saved and saved and saved (it felt like eternity!) for a Wonder Woman doll. Finally, on a visit to my dad's parents, they tipped the coin jar into my favor and pushed me over the mark to get my long-covetted Wonder Woman doll. I got her, and she was SO GREAT! But, here's what got my attention even as a very, very young girl. She couldn't wear Barbie's clothes. She was too muscular. She was too strong! So, Wonder Woman didn't have civilian clothes to wear because she couldn't raid Barbie's closet because she was too strong and built up! I do very much remember often thinking that something was kind of hrrrrmmmm, unsettlingly wrong about the muscular super hero chic not getting to wear the fancy, pretty clothes. That discrepancy did register in my nascent feminist brain.

  12. I played Barbies to a much older age than most girls, definitely most girls in this day who are urged to grow up so fast. *sigh* I was still playing Barbies at 10. I think that is, in large part, because I was an only child, and playing Barbies was a very imaginative form of play I could pass time with.

    Fast forward to adulthood...

    Back when I was still married and we had moved into my dream house (2001) (the ex still lives there, with his girlfriend, *sigh*), my dad told my mom that they could FINALLY get all of those boxes of my crap out of their attic. LOL (They'd already had to hold onto them long into my adulthood because the first few years of my marriage, we were a military family and PCS'd a lot.) So, all the Barbie stuff came home to roost. Well, I have a son, and he is and will be an only child. I didn't plan that, but it just ended up having to be that way. I'm lucky to have him because we both almost died getting him into this world. I didn't have a daughter to play Barbies with. So, I kept all the old things from my mother and Gram. But, all the stuff that was from my time (late 70's, early 80's) (2 boxfuls), I gave to my neighbors who had 3 daughters. The younger 2 (twins) are 3 months younger than my son. I gave them the dolls, and their mom (a good friend, good neighbor) went through the 1970's/80's (nonGram sewn) clothing to pick and choose for her daughters.

    Here's where it gets interesting on the Barbie-morphing-into-a-slut front. That family is a very, VERY conservative Southern Baptist family. M (the neighbor mom) was grateful for the older, MODEST Barbie clothing because she'd been cringing at her 3 girls going Barbie crazy because all of the new outfits are so sexualized, immodest, and inappropriate for little girls -- all mini-Britney skankwear. M was so happy for my handmedowns because the outfits were decent and she could, in good conscience, let her daughters dress the Barbie dolls in them!

    As for my Barbie-fication: Other than Barbie, my favorite toys growing up were Playdoh, crayons, Legos, Erector Sets (I’d build robots), a real microscope I got at a yard sale (I made a gazillion slides for it), EtchaSketch, Tinker Toys, my dad’s old handmedown telescope from when he was in college, books, my toy typewriter (blue and plastic, only typed capital letters LOL), and design oriented toys that let me create (e.g. Fashion Plates ; an interior design kit that taught me how to draw 3D rooms and fill them in with furniture, textures, etc.; and a fashion design kit that showed me how to draw fashion figures and then add texture, sequins, etc. to the clothing I designed). I was also all about collecting rocks and fossils and could frequently be found digging in the dirt. After playing Barbies inside for a while, you could find me outside building forts in the yard out of scrap wood I’d drug home from curbside piles in the neighborhood. I could ride my bike just as fast as the boys and wasn’t scared to climb down into the ditches and look for tadpoles and crawdads. I grew up to be a non-make-up wearing, non-high-heels-wearing, non-manicure/pedicure, denim skirt clad tomboy with a penchant for modern day homesteading skills and martial arts. So, Barbie obviously didn't rub off on me. LOL That said, I will GLADLY sit in the floor and play Barbie's with friends' little daughters and granddaughters. I'll happily dress Barbies and fix their hair to this day. :)

    Oh, Deb, I have smiled SOOOOO BBBBIIIIGGGG while typing this! Thank you for bringing up the memory of good Barbie stuff!

  13. Hart, the Earring Magic Ken!!! I missed that one -- but apparently thousands of people did not. Sexy.

    Rigel, thanks for the memories!

  14. I must have missed the Barbie phase. I remember getting Barbie's as presents but I would never play with them. The only really good thing that I have to say about Barbie is about her accesories. Now I do have to say she had it going on with her accesories but never cared to much about her outfits.

  15. This was such a fun read. I was such a Barbie playing kid and my own daughters played with them, too. But our favorite thing was to play the Barbie Queen of the Prom board game on rainy days and in the middle of winter. Mmmm. Solo in the Spotlight.......

  16. Hart the thing is, I had nice "actual" Barbie outfits but sometimes I also had homemade Barbie outfits which my Mom had made from a very talented seamstress in our hood. I also did kleenex bedspreads and tiny little plastic loot bag candy baskets for lampshades on top of little flashlights. Some of my nicest memories. and speaking of memories Rigel I loved each shared moment. YOU are an encyclopedia girl! Thanks for sharing those precious stories. Barbie Queen of the Prom Board is classic Lisa and do yourself a favour and check out "solo in the spotlight" I have the outfit and it is fab fab fab. Never too late to become a Barbie girl Lyndsie! Go buy Holiday Barbie and put her on your tree!

  17. I will do that. Maby if I put Barbie on my tree I will actually like her a whole lot more.

  18. Yes but buy a Holiday Barbie 2010 and she can be your angel!!!

  19. Oh how I coveted Barbie. I only had one, and we didn't have the money to buy her outfits, so I made them out of washcloths and socks and fabric scraps. I made her a car out of a kleenex box, and my barbie's only dating choices were my little brother's Weebles.

    So I guess you could say my Barbie was ghetto before it was the fashion.

  20. I never had a Barbie because you didn't get them in India, but I always wanted a Barbie becuase she had such pretty clothes. But I can't say I missed much since my mother and later I made lovely clothes for my other beautiful (and more realistic) dolls.


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