Barbie Was More than a Plastic Princess To Me

Linda Quest By Linda Quest, 4th May 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

The author reflects on a childhood growing up playing Barbie every day. There is the standard way to play Barbie...and then there is the wacky creative way. Read on to see Barbie like you've never seen her before.

Let's play Barbies!

Much ink has been spilled about the nefarious effects Barbie has had on our culture and the impossible standards she sets for female beauty. Too skinny, too busty, too blonde, too princessy and too perky.

I will leave the serious commentary to the social psychologists. I had a different experience of Barbie.

My little sister Gretchen and I grew up in the 70s in a military family and moved around a lot. By default, we were each other’s best friend. And we played Barbies together every day. Sometimes a friend would join, but not often. Our friends felt our play violated the true spirit of Barbie. I still remember Darla Davidson's accusation: “You two don’t play Barbies right. Barbie is supposed to try on different clothes, getting dressed for her date with Ken.”

What? A date? We never thought of that! Our Barbies never went on dates, maybe because they were too busy dealing with apocalyptic disasters such as earthquakes and mega-tornadoes. They saved trolls from being eaten by Grape Jingle, the normally kindly teddy bear, who occasionally went on a ghoulish rampage. They transported trolls back and forth between Barbie camps in Tonka trucks our father had given us because he wished he had sons.

GrayBlonde was the evil Barbie. We had marked her face up with ink to look the part. GrayBlonde could fly. The other Barbies’ lives were spent on constant guard against her dastardly attacks, hijackings (she would fly alongside the plane and pry it open with her fingernails), kidnappings, or attempts to hypnotize Ken and turn him against his Barbie friends. (Ken was a simpleton.)

GrayBlonde used restraining devices such as the dreaded Bobby Sock to hold Barbies captive while deciding their fates. The twisted genius did not lack for creativity in her torture methods. She would bury unlucky Barbies up to their necks amongst the marigolds to be tortured by the fumes from nearby dog poop.

GI Joe, who was Barbie-sized in those days (and not a simpleton), personally rescued many a Barbie from the perilous Bookshelf Cliff, or hanging by her hair from the Venetian Blind Cord. Only he could scale these dangerous heights with his kung-fu grip. Normal Barbies collaborated to fish their frantically screaming friends out of the Drowning Tub with a shoelace. Without warning, the rules of the Barbie world could change as crayons became magic wands or the living room rug became quicksand.
Golden Lady was the oldest Barbie. She still had the 1960s thick plastic ridge for eyelashes, which was replaced in the 70s Barbie by a fringe. My sister had licked Golden Lady’s head so often that she (Golden Lady, not my sister) developed male pattern baldness. Her feet had been chewed away and she could not bend her legs like our newer 70s Barbies. But she was a very important character in every game. She was the oracle to be consulted on how to get out of whatever jam GrayBlonde had put them into. And sometimes she and GrayBlonde would battle directly, hurling magical forces at each other in the Barbie version of a wizard’s duel.

No, our Barbies did not have time for fashion or dating.

Barbie could be evil or innocent, victim or hero. She was tolerant of other species, like the troll family. She respected her elders. She was smart and resourceful, athletic by necessity, and collaborative with her Barbie friends. Barbie was a survivor!
Sometimes I feel sad when I see that Barbie lives only in a pink world of luxury today. Barbie movies instruct little girls on the one and only way Barbie is “supposed to be”, robbing them of their own powers of imagination. I played Barbies with an eight-year-old recently. She was a sweet girl until it came to Barbies. She only wanted to play mean girl politics between her dolls over who wears what and who likes/dislikes whom. Sigh.

Barbie was so much more than a plastic princess to my sister and me. If only other children could have the opportunity to develop complex characters and adventures with their Barbies – then, who would care what Barbie looks like?


Barbie, Creativity, Culture, Essay

Meet the author

author avatar Linda Quest
Born in the US, I lived in Europe for 28 years before returning home. Currently in Norfolk, Virginia. I teach, research and write about management, but use these pages for play!

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
6th May 2015 (#)

I used to have dolls but preferred cars better. With regard to dolls found them too boring to play with so preferred being a monkey on trees and jumping over roofs and running around. Never quite changed and didn't quite grow up so am happier this way and the dolls are with mum now they are all in a suitcase full of memories.

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author avatar Nancy Austin
5th Jun 2015 (#)

Ha.Ha. Mine were acrobats. They could make it across the room in one flip. Love it!

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