Growing Up With Barbie
I believe in playing with Barbies. I believe in going all out—creating a Barbie neighborhood and making your own Barbie houses, clothes, and furniture. I believe in the closeness that developed between three sisters who filled almost every childhood summer day with Barbie play.
Our Barbie mania began innocently enough with Malibu Barbie, a platinum blond version sporting a fluorescent pink bikini. More Barbie accoutrements followed—new dolls, including Office Barbie, complete with pink velveteen suit and briefcase, a Barbie Rolls Royce and Jeep, a summer house, and supporting figures Skipper, Stacey, Miko, and Ken. But the empire was incomplete until Christmas 1984, when my sister Karie received what I perceived to be, at the time, the pinnacle of all Christmas gifts—a three-piece ode to plastic and the Barbie ideal, the Barbie Dream House. This red, orange, and white mansion became the anchor for future Barbie neighborhoods and their sagas.
My sisters and I played closely, and well, for years. So much more than a game, the play allowed us to work through issues we were just beginning to glimpse as young girls. Through the lens of the Barbie neighborhood, we addressed family, social, and class issues. Our Barbies survived divorces, deaths, poverty, and a stalker—and prospered. For a time a rabid dog (called Cujo, of course, and performed by the youngest, Samantha, as the best roles were allocated based on seniority and age) terrorized the neighborhood. Our Barbie houses weathered earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, natural disasters which our Barbie families handled with grace and kindness, handing out supplies to less fortunate Barbies in neighboring trailers.
Being happy—truly fulfilled and content—without a lot of money was a major theme in our play. The architect of a family of modest means, Karie created a favorite character, a popular teenager who dressed frugally yet stylishly due to frequent thrift store visits. This family made due with what it had and was likely the happiest on the block. That life lesson, illuminated as it was by my then-eight year old sister, seems to me one of the most important to learn, period.
Barbie land made a difference in our lives. It helped us to deal with our mother’s cancer diagnosis, her chemotherapy, and her death. We clung to our daily Barbie routine because it was one constant in a time when everything seemed in a state of upheaval. We couldn’t undo the pain our mom endured, or bring her back. But in Barbie land, we could envision Barbie mothers who were able to stay involved in their daughters’ lives. And we did.
I believe not only in playing Barbies, but in deeply imaginative and collaborative play in general. I believe in my sisters and the countless hours we lived vicariously through our dolls. I believe children should be given the opportunity to exercise their imaginations to the fullest, as we did. I believe I am a better person for it.
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