Me (age six) and my baby sister with my doll buggy
in the snow, Lloydminster, Sask.
NOTE: This was written a couple of years ago. I haven't checked on what kind of dolls are currently popular with little girls. When I was a child I much preferred paper dolls, which I found a very creative form of play, building cardboard houses for them and designing extra costumes for them or cutting out my own from Sears catalogues. It was my little sister who adored dolls the most and perhaps this is what gave her the early experience of being a 'mother' as when she grew up she had a large family and now has many grandkids which she loves having around her. She even has an expensive collection of porcelain dolls on display. I've still got my old dolls though, nostalgic treasures from my childhood.
The other day I paid a visit to the toy department of a big department store. I was hoping to see Santa Claus, to let him know I haven't been naughty. But the old fellow wasn't in, so I decided to browse around and see what sort of new toys he'll be leaving for the kiddies this year.
I wandered into an entire section of Toyland devoted to that voluptuous high-fashion super-model doll, Barbie.
On a wide screen video, three middle age women -- Barbara Cartland types -- were showing off their Barbie collections and gloating, in sugary terms, over how many of these dolls they own. (One had several hundred). They were gushing and gooing over their Barbies like obsessed, doting mothers doting over little girls made up to look like Dolly Parton...those kids who are exploited and displayed in kiddie beauty contests.
As I listened to their prattle, I looked over the shelves and racks of Barbies, her playmates and accessories to see just was IS going on these days in the world of dolls. Aren't dolls supposed to be the 'perfect gift' for every little girl? And aren't dolls meant to be played with? When I heard one of these wanna-be beauty-queen 'moms' gasp "Oh, we NEVER take them out of their boxes!" I almost choked. How can you play with a doll in a box?
I remember when my daughter, age five, got her first Barbie for Christmas. Barbie was still new then, and just as popular as she is now, only back then Barbie was made for little girls to play with. Moms, like me, had fun making all her delicate wardrobe. I recall the pleasant hours I spent that Christmas sewing cute little outfits, designing fur-trimmed coats and glittering evening gowns, and knitting tiny sweaters. I had as much fun assembling Barbie's wardrobe as my daughter did playing with her. It didn't cost me a week's wages either - just the pleasant time I spent sewing and knitting.
Back then, Barbie had a little sister, Skipper. She was my favorite. I made her wardrobe too. She was about my daughter's age, a little more suitable for a child than her big-breasted older sister Barbie. I looked for Skipper on the shelves of Toyland, but she wasn't there. Instead, there's a bevy of newcomers, none of them as cute as Skipper. Did Skipper grow up and elope with G.I. Joe, I wonder?
There's a tiny tot in the new collection. What clandestine things have been going on between Barbie and her long-time boyfriend Ken, when Toyland's shops are closed for the night? I see Barbie’s wedding dress, but does anyone remember an actual wedding?
Yes, ever faithful Ken is still around, showing off his array of trendy costumes and disguises. Ken even has his own car, boat, RV and sports equipment to keep him occupied. perhaps he even has a secret girlfriend on the side, because Barbie is so popular and busy. She has all kinds of toys and accessories for herself too, including her own house and furnishings.
There's no end of Barbies. They come in every colour and style, from the old fashioned '50's version to the deluxe year 2000 model. Prices range from affordable to exorbitantly pricey. One of these fancy-dressed Barbies is priced at over $1500. Barbie isn't a little girl’s doll anymore. She's a super star. To be politically correct, in keeping with the times, she now comes in assorted colours. There's a whole range of ethnic Barbies wearing national costumes, priced about $80.
Then there is trendy tattooed Barbie, cheerleader Barbie, Barbie the baseball player and aerobic exerciser, Barbie the nurse, secretary teacher, movie star, fashion model, and soap opera diva. Even Cinderella Barbie and Princess Barbie. Barbie loves Frank Sinatra and is posed in a stage-prop box beside a man-doll likeness of the famous singer. (I wonder if he sings.)
I am overwhelmed by this extravaganza! What became of dolls that wear baby clothes and cry "Mama" when you tip them over, and close their little eyes when you tuck them into their cradles? Where is cute little Baby Wettums who peed on your knee when you fed her from her tiny bottle? And remember the rag dolls grandma made with braided wool hair and checked dresses covered with crisp white pinafores? What ever happened to good old Raggedy Ann and Andy? Remember Chatty Cathy, the first real 'talking' doll? The Christmas my daughter got her from Santa, my son overheard us playing with her and realized Santa was a hoax. Now Chatty's been replaced by that goofy red-haired Tickle-me-Elmo critter and weird Furby, another pair who caused a sensational buying frenzy by ADULTS who price-gouged and went nuts in their quest to obtain these dumb toys as gifts (or for collections). Just as a couple of years ago rag dolls were replaced by that ugly stuffed Cabbage Patch Doll, another ridiculous 'fad' perpetuated by ADULTS.
When we were kids, my sister and I got dolls from Santa that were real DOLLS. Our Mom got great plasure making their wardrobes, just as I enjoyed sewing clothes for my daughter's dolls. I wasn't much interested in playing with dolls, prefering instead the paper variety that stimulated a lot of dramatic play. But my little sister was crazy about dolls. During the War, Dad sent her a life-size baby doll from Belgium. His name was Peter. He had baby-soft skin and blue glass eyes that moved as if he was really looking at you. Dressed in a real baby's layette, Peter could pass as a newborn. One day my sister took baby Peter for a walk in his little pram. A frantic neighbor rushed to our house to report that Jeanie had 'kidnapped' somebody's baby. Mom tried to explain that it was only a doll, but the neighbor was convinced Jean had taken somebody's baby because she said she heard it crying. She didn't know my sister could do a perfect crying baby impersonation.
You can't put Barbie or her runty little side-kicks in a pram or a doll's cradle and pretend they are real babies like little Peter. You can't feed them and they won't pee on your knee. But amazingly, Barbie's popularity never wanes, perhaps thanks to the collectors who are willing to pay outrageous prices just to have a fancy doll to show off in a display case. Even my sister has a collection of dolls -- china dolls, babies included, who live on the shelves of a display case in her rec room.
Once in awhile I unpack the little girl doll with the Shirley Temple dimples that was the very last doll Santa brought me one Christmas long ago. She's still wearing her original yellow bonnet and dress, though she's lost her shoes. Her auburn hair is slightly moth-eaten, and she's showing her age. She reminds me of a time when dolls were dolls and little girls played at being Moms. Wasn't that the purpose of dolls in the first place? And isn't that what used to make them the perfect gift for little girls to find under the Christmas tree?