Against My Feminist Opposition: My Kids Loved Barbie Dolls

Invasion of the Barbie Dolls

Flickr Commons / Photo by: Charles Roark

Flickr Commons / Photo by: Charles Roark

I remember having Barbie dolls as a little girl. I had plenty of them, but she just wasn’t my kind of gal. Barbie, Skipper and friends were usually left under my bed or at the bottom of the toy chest. I preferred to pretend play with friends from a very early age. Fast- forward a generation however, and you will see my playroom (and sometimes many other rooms) have been taken over by the classic blonde bombshell.

“How on earth did this happen,” I asked myself the other day. My oldest daughter Amanda is now ten. When she was very young, I felt strongly that I did not want her to have Barbie dolls. I thought they would stunt the growth of the feminist deep inside of her. My husband and I did not buy the dolls. She had books everywhere, and plenty of other toys. Amanda certainly was not lacking in playthings, so there was no need for Barbie. My father however, thought it was absurd that I had shut Barbie out of her life.

After many discussions, he agreed to refrain from purchasing a Barbie until Amanda was capable of asking for it herself. We thought this was a good compromise. My stipulation (as crazy as it seems now) was that when she did indeed ask for one, he must buy a Barbie with a profession. No “Malibu Barbie” for my daughter -– she must be a good role model! Eventually, Dad found himself in Toys-R-Us walking up and down the lovely pink Barbie aisle over and over until Amanda would say, “I want one!” If you have kids, you can imagine it did not take too many passes for her to ask. I do not remember which doll it was, but she did have a profession!

For a while the Barbie novelty was fun for Amanda, and her Papa. He loved buying them, I think in part just to get me back for all those years I left my Barbies at the bottom of the toy chest.

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By then Amanda was about two, and Emma Tess was born. At about one-and-a-half years old, Emma really took to Barbie. Amanda started losing interest. She preferred to paint with watercolors, and stack blocks. Emma’s love for Barbie grew in ways I was just not prepared to handle. She could play by herself with her dolls for what seemed like hours. As she grew older, Emma would make up elaborate stories for the dolls — they were often going on dates and getting married. She is now 8 and still loves to play with her dolls. After a while, there were no more professional Barbies to be found, and I learned to accept the others. It dawned on me that my stipulation was a mute point because the girls stripped every doll within an hour of taking her out of the box. Those clothes, and the tiny accessories that symbolized whichever profession she represented were very often lost in no man’s land.

My son was the next to be born –- he is now 4. You’ll never guess what one of his favorite toys is. Yup, Barbie. With the addition of each child, the Barbie collection grew. Now we have plenty of GI Joes too – enough for the Barbies to host a Prom. He has plenty of Power Rangers, and he loves airplanes. But for Joseph, there is nothing like playing Barbie with his big sister Emma. He has the same knack for making up story lines as she does. For a while it was a sore spot for us. People tend to look at you strange when your little boy is carrying a Barbie throughout the grocery store.

Enter Isabella. She turned two in January. Isabella took to Barbie quickly as well. And she tries really hard to play along with Emma, too. Very often, when Emma comes home after school, Joey or Bella will hand her a Barbie the minute she comes through the door. They love their playtime with her.

The Barbie buying has finally slowed to a trickle. After all these years, and all these kids, there are not too many we don’t have! They are mostly naked, and many of them have interesting hairstyles these days. Both Emma and Joey like to cut the dolls hair. I find shoes and tiny brushes between the couch cushions constantly. And sometimes, when Emma is not available, I find myself immersed in my 4-year-old’s story line on the living room floor. I follow to the best of my ability, and try to be sure the doll I have been assigned (usually the one with the worst haircut) has a job, or is at least in college. I hate to admit it, but I like Barbie time with my two little ones.

Maybe I was wrong about Barbie all along. Just don’t tell my Dad.

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