Barbie is in the fight of her life. Broadcast and print media carried this news story last summer. Who knew that she regularly faced competition to force her out of her position of queen of the doll world? The latest competition was reported to be Monster High dolls which looked like the offspring of monsters and vampires. Before that there were Bratz dolls , popular in the last decade, wearing low-rise jeans and lots of makeup. There were also “Ugly” dolls, and if you’ve never seen one, Google them, and you’ll agree they were really ugly and also slightly creepy. A Boston Globe article pointed out that “hot toys” stay hot for about five years and then are ousted by the next fad. But while Barbie’s popularity has waxed and waned, she still comes out as number one.
I’ve always been glad that I was a kid long before the Barbie era. It would have distressed me to receive a doll that already had a name, and I probably would have renamed her as I did cats and a dog that I rescued later in life. Even at age four, I put a great deal of thought into naming a doll. For my most special doll, I chose the name Diana Christine, my grandmother’s name. I had an extensive family of dolls, all what you would call baby dolls. Each doll came dressed, and I’m remembering each wore a bonnet, but there were no extended wardrobe choices. But although Diana was not a real “wetting doll” my Aunt Dot had searched Boston for cloth diapers which were scarce because of the war. For a change of clothing, I used cast-off baby clothes. I was a devoted doll-mother: dressing them, pretending to feed them, reading to them, taking them out for walks. My mother drew the line, however, when I woke up in the night to tend to Diana, having decided she had chicken pox. Actually my cat had clawed her legs and left pock-like marks.
It was a time when the only goal was to get married and have children, and the dolls of the era provided multiple opportunities for practicing child-care. Once Barbie hit the scene, it all changed. The emphasis was on fashion and looks, even though Barbie’s figure was so unrealistic. A few years after her introduction, Barbie had occupational assignments and the clothes to go along with them. Make-believe play had a totally different focus. If for no other reason than the criticism and controversy she sparks, I think Barbie will retain her crown for the foreseeable future. I think Barbie, like Mark Twain, will be able to say, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated!”
© Dorothy C. Judd
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