When I was a girl, back in the days when we rode the dinosaur to school, it was not at all unusual for girls (and they were girls, not prewomen, not young women) under the age of fourteen to play with dolls. Little girls, those in the toddler through age 8 or even 9 bracket, played with baby dolls, and all that came with playing with baby dolls. Baby dolls had high chairs, and bottles, and diapers, and everything for the younger set to pretend they were mommies, and to mother as their mothers did the little girls.
Older girls, girls not ready to date and too old to play with baby dolls, had other options.
The first was the paper doll. Paper dolls came in a book with a theme, for anywhere from 29 cents to a whole dollar for the really good ones! Paper dolls lived life on the edge, between TV show characters, brides, airline stewardesses, teachers and nurses. Just about every book contained at least one male paper doll, be he the groom, a pilot, a doctor or the principal.
While the theme of the paper doll book was established, and with the theme the wardrobe, a smart older girl could easily whip up a wardrobe by studying the position of the tabs that held on a particular paper doll's clothes. Into my second year of magnet high school as an art major, my paper dolls wore fringed vests, bell bottoms, flares, body shirts, headbands, hot pants and culottes. They hadn't come with those outfits. They came with a mid-1960s bridal outfit and changes of clothing for the honeymoon. It got to the point where I no longer imagined my dolls in each other's arms doing who-knows-what. I had a good idea of what did happen, having heard the tales in the locker room. I just enjoyed making the clothes, seeing how realistic I could make them by applying what I learned in class. I discovered years later that I was not the only girl in my high school to secretly harbor paper dolls, or to design wardrobes for them. Some managed to hang onto their fashions despite their mothers cleaning them out when they went to college. One left the designs on sheets of paper and put them in her portfolio.
None of my daughters has ever enjoyed paper dolls. They didn't like the fact that they had to actually cut the dolls' clothes from the paper, even with the prepunched sets. Even the famous Tom Tierney paper dolls at Dover didn't inspire them. After six months, I swept them up and they are no more.
Belle and Baby do enjoy Barbies. So do I . So do a lot of other grown women, some in their 70s and 80s who were moms when Barbie came out.
In my day, Barbie drove a Corvette my parents never bought us. That's OK. Our Barbies drove a shoe box we converted to a truck, which doubled as a bus. Her house was made from Pampers boxes covered in wallpaper samples from the local furniture store. She sometimes worked at the Neisner's behind the soda fountain counter. But usually, she worked for our doctor in an office, as a nurse, sometimes as a pharma saleswoman. Barbie occasionally took the veil and taught at a Catholic school. We often fashioned our own clothes for Barbies, not bothering with patterns and the like.
As I got older, Barbie faded off with my sisters. I would sometimes play with my youngest sister and cousins when I baby-sat, strictly to help her out of course. Barbie was in love with Donny Osmond, but wasn't fond of Marie. Barbie dated Greg Brady and David Cassidy. Barbie finally got her car.
I've heard the stories, about how Barbie is bad for the self-image of girls, and those hard plastic boobs make young girls pine away that their bodies are hopelessly never going to be as perfect as Barbie, with her feet shaped exactly for high heels. Balderdash. Barbie sparks the imagination, and that is a good thing.
One of the ways we found out Belle and Baby were in peril was Baby's recitation of TV programs in preschool. The other kids told the teacher, an older woman who had been teaching for some time, about Rollie Pollie Ollie or Bear in the Big Blue House or even Arnold and the Wild Thornberries. Not Baby.
Baby's first show described a man and a "lady" on stools, watched when Lulubelle was allegedly taking a nap during the afternoon. Another man, with a giant stick and wearing glasses, told the man on the stool, "It's 99% not your baby." The man apparently hurled invectives at the "lady" who screamed and cried. Her second show described a "lady in a long dress at a big table with a hammer" who listened to a man and "a lady in a pit." After listening to the woman cry and the man scream, the lady at the table banged her hammer, and said, "Divorce granted. All the money goes to the wife."
It was bad enough to know that Baby was left alone to watch "Jerry Springer" and "Divorce Court" at the age of 3 and 4. But when we found out Lulubelle left both kids to watch nighttime TV, we really started paying attention.
After we took her to our house again, some days later, Baby lined up the Barbies we'd scavenged on a toy couch. Baby had a big furry bank form the zoo, purchased by the Mister in an indulgent mood, called Wolfie. All of the sudden from the kids' room we heard, "And now, Live from Las Vegas, it's the Tonight Show, with Wolfie the Wolf and his Wolfman Band. Tonight's guests are Barbie 1, Barbie 2, Jerry Seinfeld, and tonight's host, Wolfie the Wolf, live from Las Vegas!"
It was later in play therapy that we discovered the kids had been left to do as they pleased through the night, as Lulubelle was asleep with her face on the keyboard of her computer, after drinking the "brown stuff" as the kids called it. They apparently preferred Jay Leno over Dave Letterman, a wise choice in my opinion. Barbie has been very helpful indeed.
These days, Baby still plays with Barbies, while Wolfie has been retired to a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, which is also Baby's desk. Belle will occasionally join in, and even a couple of the kids' friends have been known to participate a time or two.
TV is strictly regulated in our house. An adult must be in the house when the TV is on, in case questions are raised. The digital programming controls who sees what and when. But the kids are older now, and the shows have changed. The Barbies, as they are called, and were always called, live new lifestyles and have new adventures spawned by TV and imaginations.
The Polly Pockets were recently sent to juvenile hall as the result of mention of juvy in a Disney show. And the Barbies are on the move: 3 are in witness protection, under new identities. Hawaiian Barbie has taken up residence as the head of the Five-0 team, replacing Steve McGarrett, who was captured by Wo Fat and the alleged CIA agent who claimed to be his mother, then made Wo Fat's houseboy on an undisclosed island- and poor Steve must cook and clean, every day. Fashion Barbie is actually a CIA agent, who has a back story of another life in Seattle working for Microsoft, and was the jilted girlfriend of Bill Gates. You don't even want to know about the turnout at the Barbie National Convention, with a Barbie standing in for Condi Rice, Sarah Palin and Ann Romney (yes their Barbies are diverse, but strong in party unity).