Barbie has taught generations of girls a lot over the years. And, for me, those lessons hold far more value than my 1970s Mod Hair Ken with the “combable hair and all the makings for a new look.”
Barbie never dies, she just gets naked
Playing with Barbie dolls helps children answer many of life’s big questions, such as: What happens if lots of people are piled on top of each other in various stages of undress? Answer: You are bound to lose one of your favorite red heels. More important, playing with Barbie teaches kids about social stratification and eternal salvation. My friend had the following exchange about said topics after observing his little girls seating Barbie and Ken on thrones:
“Who are they?” he asked.
“The king and queen!” they pronounced.
Spying a naked Barbie and Ken nearby, he foolishly continued to query. “Well, who are they?”
“That’s the old king and queen,” one answered. “They died.”
“Why aren’t they wearing clothes?”
“Because,” explained the other, “Barbie has to be naked to go to heaven.”
Lesson 1 —You can’t take it with you. But in heaven there’s a wardrobe with matching shoes for every outfit, including the red heel you lost during the last Barbie hook-up.
[Notice the surprised–but strangely happy–look on Potty Ken’s face, above. Lesson 1a: Ken is like most men. If Barbie let him put a flat screen and a cooler in there, he’d never come out.]
Barbie dumps Ken for wrestlemaniaction figure
After school, my youngest daughter was playing with her friend. Their game of “house” consists of Barbie hooking up with the friend’s little brother’s WWE action figures. Despite their wrestler bulges (as out of proportion as Barbie’s) and bendable parts conducive to moves such as the wishbone leg-splitter, Dr. Death and the Undertaker have been only slightly emasculated and given the more respectable names of Mack and John. They also have been strongly encouraged by the girls to treat Barbie like a lady and not just another bosom-y wrestling ring diva.
Lesson 2—Girls think even plastic boys need to be taught a lesson.
Batman vs. Ken-guy
Ken doll’s head came bouncing down the stairs, followed by a lone rubber leg.
“Mommy, would you FIX this guy?” my then three-year-old son yelled.
I was not worried about my little boy playing with my old Ken doll. He was young, and besides, his grandpa had taught him how. You take Ken doll—Evil Ken—and put him up against Batman doll. A well-placed Bat-kick, and Evil Ken’s head is propelled across the room. This is why Ken won’t stay together and his pants are very easy to put on.
Lesson 3—It’s okay for boys to play with dolls as long as they hurt each other.
Why Barbie will never marry Ken
Ken more often plays the part of boyfriend rather than husband. (Maybe it’s his androgynous accessories that keep Barbie from committing.) In most any girl’s collection, the ratio of Barbie to Ken is about 37:1. But girls, even those from a two-parent household, may feel the need to explain the oft male absence in Barbie’s life. My friend’s daughters were giving voice to this issue during a discussion between Sparkle Lights Princess Barbie and I Can Be a Computer Engineer Barbie.
“My daddy’s in the hospital,” piped Sparkle Lights. “Where’s your daddy?”
“My daddy’s dead!” exclaimed Computer Engineer Barbie.
Lesson 4—If ever there was a time for Jesus action figure with glow-in-the-dark healing hands to show up, this would be that time.
What doesn’t kill you makes you made of Plastic
Whereas girls learn how to keep a nice Dream House and maintain their figures and their six-figure incomes while working as veterinarian-rock stars, boys use dolls to practice dying dramatically.
Here’s how: Stuff G.I. Joe’s fatigues with just enough toilet paper to make a body for the head you yanked off his real body that will flail realistically when Darth Maul attacks Joe with the light saber he acquired from Arms Dealer Ken and sends him tumbling down the mountainside (staircase). Insert simulated screams that decrescendo correspondingly to his descent.
Lesson 5–This may be the perfect time for the Six Million Dollar Man to make his move on Joe’s girl.
The terror that tip-toes in the night
I went through a phase in childhood when going to bed with a giant Beauty Shop Barbie head on my dresser caused paranoid insomnia. Barbie Head, however, was not nearly as terrifying as knock-off-cat-eye Dollikin. Because of her freakishly double-jointed body, she could nod ‘yes’ instead of just shaking her head ‘no’ like Barbie. (I suspect Ken liked that about her.) I realized then that this nimbleness would also aid her in evading capture after she murdered me.
Lesson 6—The one to fear is Barbie. Her disarming smile distracts you from the fact that she walks everywhere on tip-toe and could sneak up on you way before Barbie Head ever scoots herself off the dresser.
Barbie and Ken see things from a different perspective
Being a gentle child and one not prone to view Barbie’s and Ken’s body parts as interchangeable, I was mortified one day when my friend Tammy yanked off their heads and managed to force them onto the other’s body. Tammy came from a loving family of 10 kids.
Lesson 7—Such behavior is not indicative of gender confusion but a sign of wanting to do the same thing on occasion to one of your seven brothers.
Lesson 7a—Having breasts lowers the value of the 1970s Ken doll with the stick-on sideburns.
Boobie dolls—what every girl wants
In fourth grade, my best friend and I used to argue over whose breasts were developing faster. She was a 36 AA; I reasoned that I was in the lead with my 36 AAAs. It was challenging having a desk next to the girl with the very grown-up name of Valerie, but the fact that her chest was the size of my grandmother’s—sans used tissues and house keys tucked into the cups—was not as painful as the fact that my friend was, indeed, a cup size bigger than I.
Growing Up Skipper brought hope to millions of girls like me in 1975. Rotating her arm 360 degrees caused Skipper’s breasts to go from pre-pubescent to a just-in-time-for-high-school 36 B.
Lesson 8—This movement will only dislocate your shoulder. Believe me.
Being different is only cool if your elbows don’t bend
I find it bizarre that Barbie has been marketed as a model woman to generations of girls, who—barring major plastic surgery to remove their nipples—will never look anything like her. But that’s okay. Because according to her movie “A Mermaid Tale,” “what makes you different can be your greatest strength.” Cue the dolphin noises.
Lesson 9—You are not alone “different” kids. There are lots of children with fish tails who aren’t able to play on land with their oxygen-dependent friends.
Teaching Barbie a lesson
Barbie doesn’t have an easy job. In fact, one of the most common humiliations she will endure is coiffing at the hands of children with Fiskars.
In requesting Barbie stories from friends, I was surprised by the large number that related cutting off Barbie’s hair. My friend Carrie came up with a solution: “Needless to say, Barbie looked like shit after that, and from then on, every time I played Barbies, that one was the maid.”
Lesson 10—It’s what’s inside that counts. Take Carrie’s Bionic Woman doll. “She had rubber sleeves you could roll up to reveal her bionics. I cut the rubber sleeves off because I thought she should be proud of her body.”
What my packaging would say if I were a Barbie doll:
Struggling Writer Amanda comes with three kids and a Jeep with 150,000 miles on it. Second Husband and 5 Stepkids make a great gift. Ex-husband sold separately.