| A Playroom of One’s Own
I’m 30, and I play with Barbies. No, I don’t mean "collect"… I mean play!
When The Husband-Type Man and I moved into The Mansion, we struck a bargain: if THTM gets the second-largest room for his office, then I'd take the smallest room for my office… but I also get the downstairs "maid’s room."
Woo hoo! Deal!
I wasted no time in turning the maid’s room into My Playroom, a place where my Inner Child could be free and happy in ways that she hadn’t been in years… even in ways she never was as an actual child.
It’s no secret that I didn’t exactly have an idyllic childhood. Between the Asshole Stepfathers and being the Class Loser, well… I spent a lot of time by myself. And from about age 4, I was all about Barbies. I had no interest in baby dolls or Breyer horses or troll dolls or stuffed animals, nope. It was nothin’ but Barbie and Friends for Lil' Dwanollah! Over the years, I amassed quite the collection of stuff, too. I had the Barbie Friend Ship (the fake airplane), the Townhouse, and the Superstar Barbie stage. I had Donnie and Marie, Princess Leia, the Bionic Woman and Sindy. I had Suntan Tuesday Taylor, who had blonde hair in front and brunette in back, and her scalp twisted around so she could be either or… and, hey, put her in the sun and she’d get a tan that lasted for hours! I had Growing-Up Skipper, who, when you twisted her arm, got taller and boobier. …The corner of my bedroom with my Dream House and all my dolls became my Safe Place, my Happy Spot, my escape. I'd barely take breaks for meals during those blissful hours of uninterrupted play.
But my Barbies didn’t go on dates with Ken or drive around in pink convertibles or hang out at the beach. They didn’t want to be models or actresses or stewardesses or nurses. There was no malt shop, no high school, no disco. They weren’t into fashion.
Instead, I created a world that was part someplace I called "England" and "London," part Star Wars, part Disney, part Dakota territory, part Brothers Grimm, even a leetle part Sid and Marty Kroft…and it was a world that owed very little to Mattel’s pink plastic ideals. My Barbies explored the prairie in a covered wagon I made out of a shoebox, and homesteaded in a one-room brick cabin I built under the tangerine tree in Gramma’s backyard. My Barbies were held captive in record-sleeve cells by the Evil Empire and had to plan elaborate escapes to save the Rebellion. They suffered in orphanages and had to find ways to get away and work and go to school. They were shipwrecked on islands with only a wild dog or deer (courtesy of the San Diego Zoo gift shop) for company. They were locked in attics, kidnapped, starved… they ran away and got caught, had to be slaves to other Barbies, were beaten, were forced to serve Evil Ken's diabolical desires.... And ruling supreme over all this madness and malfeasance were Mrs. Crickmore and Darth Vader.
Darth Vader was the 15" action figure. Mrs. Crickmore, named for my brother Sugarbear’s particularly nasty preschool teacher, was the old Suntan Tuesday Taylor doll. She’d been lost in the back yard for about a year and, when I found her again, she’d been chewed and sprayed by a skunk, her hair was matted and sun-faded, she was missing a hand, and she would assuredly never tan again. To salvage her, I cut off the tangled half-blonde/half-brunette hair, which ended up looking like a Bride of Frankenstein ‘do, and covered her broken leg with surgical tape.
Mrs. Crickmore, the doll, was hybrid of every wicked stepmother of fairy tale lore.… She was Joan Crawford and Joan Collins, she was Miss Minchin and Miss Hannigan, Mrs. Oleson and Mrs. Medlock, she was the meanest possible robber-baron socialite wife and the cruelest hard-nosed jailer, she was Aunt Polly without the redemption at the end, she was Cruella DeVille, Madam Medusa, Maleficent and Lady Tremaine…. She was so evil that she could have danced in red-hot iron shoes all night and emerge unscathed. She was the perfect mate for Darth... heck, even he sometimes trembled in her presence!
And thus, her Evilness consecrated, Mrs. Crickmore was united with Darth Vader and instilled as the Wicked Dowager of the Barbie Dream House.
My dolls were a cast, an ensemble, a family to me (and I never played with just "Barbie® by Mattel" dolls; I liked a diverse cast of characters). Every doll was an individual with certain roles to play. Upon acquisition, I almost immediately re-named them – none of this "Sindy" and "Barbie" and "Kelly" shit for me – and I created distinct, consistent personalities for each one of them. F’instance, Mrs. Crickmore and Darth Vader had several daughters: Vanessa was originally a Hispanic Barbie (the first ethnic Barbie manufactured, FYI), but a haircut and a slutty disco dress altered her personality forever. Vanessa got married to Evil Headless Disco Ken. Lavinia began life as a kissing Barbie; her lips were pursed in a perpetual pucker, which made for quite the snobby expression on her face. Sara was a Beauty Secrets Barbie, and she had a plate in her back that you pressed to make her shoulders move so she could comb her hair. To heck with that. She became the anomaly of the family, the "good" daughter who befriended the attic prisoners and helped them escape the tortures of her parents, brother "Baby Darth" (the 2" action figure) and Evil Headless Disco Ken. Skipper, wearing a cut-down white lacy baby doll dress and pink ribbons in her hair, became Clarice, the spoiled youngest daughter. Even Evil Headless Disco Ken was re-named David, and, with that icky smile and grody tan, was quite the Bad Guy. Marrying Vanessa didn’t stop him from pursuing hapless Barbie heroines… like Annie, the aforementioned Sindy doll, or Mary Ellen, a Happy Birthday Barbie with a spray of curly bangs, both Cinderella-like attic slaves. Mary Ellen eventually hooked up with the Crickmore Mansion’s stable boy, this soldier doll my brother Sugarbear got at Pic ‘N Sav for 99 cents, which I appropriated. He looked less smarmy than the Evil Headless Disco Ken doll or the Mod Hair Ken doll, and thus became the only "good" male character in my assembly. My brother’d named him Conrad. Conrad and Mary Ellen usually ended up running away together and building a log cabin (i.e. the small closet next to the Dream House), where she would teach school and he would farm. When a (rare) visiting classmate left this little skinny fashion doll with huge eyes at my house, Mary Ellen acquired a sickly, spindly little sister, Beth. It’s only been in recent months that I found out that Beth was a Japanese doll, Licca, which was brought out for a short time in the US as "Lisa." Since the Licca dolls were so differently proportioned to Skippers, Beth only had one dress for her whole life… and no shoes. Poor Beth. After I read A Little Princess (and after the rubber bands holding Annie’s legs atrophied, rendering her paralyzed), Mary Ellen soon had a new "fellow prisoner" in the attics and dungeons, named Becky. Becky began life as a Pretty Changes Barbie who came in this cheesy yellow satin jumpsuit, but had this nifty white-and-yellow shawl/skirt thing that tied around her waist. I soon lost all the other pieces of the outfit, but the yellow shawl survived (with a snag or two) as the prized "dress up" shawl for the poor pioneer folk (Mary Ellen wore it for her numerous marriages to Conrad the Stable Boy). And Lavinia’s old Kissing Barbie pink dress (printed with little lip marks) became the "pink lawn" summer best after I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years. The pink dress and yellow shawl made quite the fashion statement… especially when complimented by the purple sunbonnet I found at a craft fair.
I had zero interest in all the "other" Barbie stuff... the Barbie-themed games and story books, that make-up styling head thingie, the pink curtains and bedspreads and stuff for a girl's bedroom... ick, grody. And I wasn’t into all the typical candy-pink Barbie furniture and accessories either.... but I loveloveLOVED the Sindy stuff! The dining set with all the wee dishes and silverware, the bedroom with blue-printed blankets, the vanity set… it was way kewler than Barbie’s tacky pink plastic crap with goofy things painted on them and that damned "B" insignia ruining everything! I still have the armchair and the bed with all the blankets and the vanity stool. I have the formal dining tabletop, even though all the legs're broken off, and the vanity and mirror, also broken-legged. Somewhere, I have the drawers from the refrigerator, and still play with the little bottles of Pepsi and chocolate milk, too…
For the most part, I shunned contemporary accessories and clothes… or re-made them. The Barbie Star Traveler motor home/RV/camper thing became a peddler’s wagon, and the Superstar Barbie set was transformed into a ballroom.
And the Dream House, of course, became Crickmore Manor.
I furnished Crickmore Manor with more refined things than the Barbie candy-pink plastic junk… like the blissfully normal-looking Sindy furniture... like a grandfather clock I made out of an econo-size toothpaste box covered with contact paper, with an old watch face inside… a jewelry box built like a mini-dresser that was perfectly Barbie sized… a mini-perfume bottle that became a rare piece of sculpture. I learned that restaurants were a great place to score Barbie accouterments, too… empty plastic creamer containers made great trash cans and milk pails, and jam tins made excellent pie pans… and it was a major coup if I could snag a cocktail umbrella or plastic sword! I concocted homemade clay and colored it with food coloring to make all sorts of Barbie delicacies: cakes decorated with real sprinkles, pies in bottlecaps (and the aforementioned jam tins) that I scented with pumpkin pie spice, even a mini turkey with extra drumsticks. Junk jewelry could be adapted for Barbie purposes, too… clip earrings could be used for hair accessories and broaches (Mrs. Crickmore had a particularly stunning diamond one), some bracelets could work as Barbie necklaces, and other things could be broken apart and re-strung, or sewn onto gowns, or twisted in hairstyles. I ruthlessly stole Gram’s crochet’d doilies and embroidered handkerchiefs… the doilies made rugs and ballgowns and cloaks, and the hankies made fancy bed linens and shawls. And I plundered dozens of boxes of tissues to make petticoats and taffeta gowns (fastened around a doll’s waist with hair ties). I made little curtains for Crickmore Manor, and sewed several inexpert patchwork quilts. My dolls usually wore clothes of my own creation, too… scraps of material cut into clumsy half-circles for skirts, pinafores made from squares with a circle in the middle for a neckhole, a few store-bought dresses with added ribbons and shawls to make them look more old-fashioned. Old socks had multiple uses… the toes could be cut and rolled to make "fur" hoods, the sock a complimentary cape. Old nylons could be transformed into slinky gowns. And Gram made me a few things too …gorgeous crocheted ballgowns, like the multi-colored pastel one with elbow-length bell sleeves… or, especially, the one she made from fine silvery-blue thread. She made a shawl and bonnet in white with blue trim to match it, and even sewed a crepe underskirt that she trimmed with that matching blue flounce. I still have the shawl and hat and underskirt, but don’t know where the dresses ended up… perhaps they were passed on to my cousins. I don’t know. Maybe I can hit Gram up to make me another one of these days.
I had a regular Barbie Annex in my childhood bedrooms and, by shifting around the three pieces of the Dream House and utilizing a bookcase or closet or a dresser hutch, I could create two or three homes and any number of settings. Parts of Crickmore Manor could become a boarding school or a summer home. Me and a friend (one of my 2 childhood Barbie-playing companions, the daughter of my mother’s best friend) created "The Most Beautiful Room in the World" on one of those dresser hutch shelves, with a rabbit fur bed and a couple perfume bottles and some bird feathers we’d found (but later had to throw away because her mother saw little lice-like things on them) and a couple picture postcards… Vanessa or Lavinia usually lived there. Under the bed were "caves" that runaways could hide in. The darkest corner of the closet was the "attic" (there ALWAYS had to be an attic at Crickmore Manor) … well, it was until I got a record player that sat on a rolling cart. Then, the lower shelf under the record player became The Attic, which meant that whichever doll(s) were locked in The Attic could sing about their plights to my favorite Olivia Newton John albums, K-Tel collections, or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack…. (Even now, to me disco music is redolent of those long playtimes in the Barbie Annex.)
My Barbies sometimes ventured outside, too, and the spider fern in the front yard, or the roots of a tree in the back yard became Barbie Shelters of some sort. I always wanted to make a real Barbie log cabin, but could never find uniformly log-like sticks… and if I could, I didn’t have tools to cut them with. So instead the Barbie clan dwelt in leaf-tents and twig huts with rock foundations and other such crude shelters. One Saturday, the Peddler’s Wagon made a long trip around the back yard, loaded down with all the Barbies’ belongings as they searched for a new claim to farm. Sugarbear decided to take the Wagon on a fast-paced joyride and… and say goodbye to all my kewl Sindy dining set dishes and glasses and silverware.
You know, as a child, I never had issues with – I never even CONSIDERED – Barbie’s unrealistic figure. I never thought Barbie was meant to be real or ideal, any more than I thought Olive Oyl or Wilma Flintstone were meant to be real or idea. Even then, as I made clothes for various dolls, I realized that Barbie’s and Sindy's smaller-waisted proportions just somehow worked better with the weaves of fabrics than Bionic Woman or Princess Leia. After all, there’s no smaller, miniaturized cloth weave for dolls’ clothes. They hung better and fit better on Barbie, thassall. She was never a "role model" to me, either, because I wasn’t interested in contemporary things like Doctor Barbie or Astronaut Barbie… or Doctor or Astronaut Ken, for that matter. What use was being a vet or an astronaut or a dentist when you were living in Victorian London or were stuck in Land of the Lost? My Barbies’ personalities and identities had little to do with the packages they came in. (That’s not to say that if I had a child who played with Barbies – and, in fact, I DO have a niecelette who plays with them! – that I wouldn’t be extremely conscious of making sure s/he wasn't falling into the "Math is hard!" "I have a date with Ken!" "I'm going to go dancing tonight" "I LOVE hanging out with my friends!" bullcrap.) Sure, my ill-used heroine Barbies often had Cinderella-like transformations when everyone realized how beautiful they were… but that wasn’t HOW my Barbies survived.
But I won’t pretend that I was a Childhood Feminist, either. The blonde Barbies became the "good" girls, and my one brunette was a "bad" girl. And some of the stories I made up were straight out of late-night soap operas, True Confessions or Penthouse Letters… and if my mother’d known, she’d prolly’ve packed me off to Kiddie Shrink a lot sooner. The scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader tortures Princess Leia with that needle-probe-floaty-ball thing made a BIG impression on me. So did some weird episode of Fantasy Island where female guests were being kidnapped and held prisoner in some old guy’s mansion to be, like, décor or something (and the ones who didn’t go along with it were whipped publicly. Sick shit, Mister Spelling, you cretin)… so SOME hapless Barbie Heroine was always being locked in a cell and tortured and whipped by Darth Vader and Mrs. Crickmore for SOMETHING, or being forced to service Evil Headless Disco Ken’s twisted proclivities. "Bad" girls like Vanessa and Lavinia did all sorts of naughty things… posing nude in Playboy and shoplifting and wearing slutty clothes that exposed their boobies. I had a tape with the 17:00 minute version of Donna Summers’ Love to Love You Baby, and sometimes one of the "bad" or "slutty" girls would either get down with Evil Headless Disco Ken, or would try to seduce him with a long dance routine and/or striptease. Sometimes, Sugarbear’s Stretch Armstrong doll would come to visit, leaving EHDKen in paroxysms of inferiority. There were illegitimate babies, there were brothels, there was bondage, there was gang-rape, there was all sorts of freaky-deeky shit going on in Barbie Land… shit that, admittedly, I didn’t really "get" or understand at that age… but it all seemed like appropriate torture for a luckless victim! And while I wasn’t as potentially whacked as the friend who had Darth Vader perform sex change operations and then brainwash her Barbies, I wouldn’t want to try convincing anyone who’d heard us playing The Empire’s Sex Camp that we weren’t doing anything "bad"…. And because my mother reads my site, I won’t mention what sometimes happened in the stables when the aforementioned friend’s Breyer horses came to visit. No way! (And to think, I hadn't even heard of Catherine the Great at the time....)
(I found out recently that I wasn’t the only strange and perverted 10-year-old in town, though…. )
Despite the oft-twisted storylines they acted out, I was fiercely protective of my Barbies, and felt a deep sense of responsibility toward them. It was sort of like Ernie on Sesame Street with the Twiddlebugs that lived in his window-box… this was a family that I had to keep an eye on and take care of. When I was done playing for the day, I never just left dolls scattered; everyone had to be put back in their rooms/places… I couldn’t leave dolls lying face down! I never threw, hit, damaged or broke dolls willfully, and if something happened to one of them, I felt horribly guilty. I still remember crying myself to sleep the Christmas I was 5 because Jamie Sommers’ bionic arm had come off, and I didn’t realize it could just be snapped back… I thought she was broken and I hadn’t taken good care of her and I thought everyone would berate her for being a "cheap toy" when it wasn’t her fault! I was horrified when I saw how neighbor girls and cousins played with their Barbies, hanging them, pulling off arms, switching heads, scalping, burning, gouging, cutting, burying- I rescued a couple of these poor dolls (like Clarice), who surely were deeply depressed that they weren’t owned by people who took care of them and liked them. Every Christmas, I decorated the Crickmore Manor with a wee Christmas tree and made sure there were presents for everyone… ribbons, trinkets, little plastic animals, tiny rag dolls I made out of yarn. If I went away, I made sure to tell them I’d be back soon, and set them all up carefully before I left so they could visit while I was gone (because I half-believed that my dolls would come to life and interact with each other if I wasn't looking). When I received a new doll, I carefully introduced her to the rest of the family/cast, first assuring the others that I wouldn’t love them any less. My mom couldn’t understand why I’d absolutely flip out if Sugarbear came in and messed my Barbies up, or if she let the daughter of a friend or one of my cousins play with my Barbies when I wasn’t around, but to me, that was the worst possible violation! What if someone played with them wrong? What if someone made them act out-of-character? What if someone dropped them or banged them around or- I have vague memories of Stepfather Number One, pissed off for some reason or another, stomping around my room and kicking over my Barbies. I, naturally, became hysterical… which prompted Asshole to, I guess, teach me a lesson in perspective. "They’re just TOYS!" he screamed at me over and over, dumping over things and throwing dolls. "They’re just TOYS!"
No they weren’t.
(That night, I couldn’t sleep until I’d put everything back the way it was supposed to be again and made sure that everyone was all right. Mary Ellen, Beth, Sara, Annie, Becky, Laura, even Vanessa and Lavinia and Clarice and Mrs. Crickmore had to be taken care of and loved to ease that particular trauma.)
My Barbies were my constant companions and my main source of stability. With them, I could act out all the stories that classmates would say were silly or stupid, and no one was there to criticize or make fun of me. Granted, I felt a sense of shame about it… I was realizing that my playing with Barbies at my age, as well as playing "pretend" and making up elaborate stories, was just another symptom of my "weirdness" in comparison to my classmates… but I wouldn’t give up my Barbies. Mom and Gram and Aunt Terri started wondering aloud when I was 10 if maybe I wasn’t too old for dolls… but I wouldn’t give up my Barbies. I felt contrite and chagrined for loving and needing them so much, and knew that if anyone at school found out, it’d be the end of me… but I wouldn't give up my Barbies! We moved to Gram’s house when I was in 6th grade, and I set up an elaborate Barbie complex in the storage shed that I had adopted as a playhouse. I'd hide out there during all my waking hours. I even rigged a light with three extension cords so I could play after dark. It was awesome. The long, low shelf against the side wall became the attic; I furnished it with Sugarbear’s brass Snoopy-doll bed (which was a perfect Barbie-size double bed, and looked delightfully authentic when covered with my homemade patchwork quilt), and this little round mini-hibachi cookstove (really meant to cook a single hamburger patty). Kick ass! The dank corner underneath that shelf made an ideal dungeon… and the other side of the wall was a perfect stable. I made an extension to Crickmore Manor with a cardboard box or two, and I used leftover linoleum to make a ballroom floor. I had a battery-operated radio/cassette player so I could play music for the balls, and so I could listen to the top-40 countdown on Sunday mornings while I played. During the summer, the whole gang moved to their Summer Residence, a brick compound against the back wall of the house and another brick homestead under the tangerine tree, where everyone could feast on fresh berries and swim in the "pond" (a two-quart pot that I half-buried in the back garden, pretty much destroying Gram’s calla lilies). I furrowed rows in the dirt and tried planting a birdseed crop for Conrad and Mary Ellen to harvest… after all, they had to make a living, since they now had a baby (a wee little "Barbie Babysits!" doll dressed in pink frills) to take care of. After reading copies of The Enquirer that were always around, I decided to make a little doll-sized newspaper detailing the Crickmore family, and I cut wee pictures out of various magazines and papers (I remember using a picture of then-teenaged Lisa Marie Presley as Lavinia) to illustrate the text I wrote myself. My stories were becoming more elaborate and detailed and graphic as I saw Mommie Dearest and read Flowers in the Attic (recognizing Mrs. Crickmore in both of them).
But things were changing. Rain soaked my Barbie food and ruined it, and I had to throw out the little cakes and doughnuts and pies. Sugarbear buried Darth Vader in the desert on a family camping trip. My mom was making me wear a bra, and I was going to be starting Junior High in September. I kept hearing "Don’t you think it’s time you put away the Barbies?" Finally, the same week school started, I complied. The Dream House was broken down and shoved in a box in the storage shed. Mrs. Crickmore and Vanessa and Mary Ellen and Beth and everyone were carefully packed in a box, along with the patchwork quilt and "pink lawn" dress and the shawls and bonnets….
And that was the end of that. Well, for about a dozen years….
About seven years ago, not too long after DumbAss and I split up, I decided my Inner Child needed nurturing, so I went to the toy store and bought some crayons, Play-Doh, and a Barbie. I felt that old guilt at being stupid, but I didn’t care. I played with it all… taking particular joy in combing the Barbie’s hair. To my delight, on a return trip to the toy store, I saw that there were Disney-themed clothes for Barbie, a Cinderella outfit and a Sleeping Beauty outfit. Because that was something I’d always longed for (but that didn’t exist when I was a child), I bought them. I dug out my box of dolls from Gram’s storage shed…. At long last, Mary Ellen was dressed appropriately as Cinderella, and the new Barbie, dressed in the Sleeping Beauty peasant dress, became Holly, Mary Ellen and Conrad’s now-teenaged daughter. I found a swath of light blue flannel scattered with pink rosebuds that I’d always wanted to make a dress out of when I was little, but hadn’t wanted to ruin the material- Aw, heck with that!, I decided, and started cutting… and by the next morning, I had a pretty decent looking dress. I had recently moved back to Gram’s house after being out on my own for a while and was establishing the first of my Rooms … and displaying a couple beloved old dolls along with my particular assortment of books, statuary, knick-knacks, and wonky stuff seemed just right.
Around this time, I was applying to college, and wrote one of my application essays on my Barbies and all the pretend games I’d played with them as a child. I got in.
As a joke Christmas gift, a bookstore co-worker gave me the Indiana Jones and a Princess Leia dolls. (The first thing I did was check to see if Indy was wearing underwear. He wasn’t.) That same Christmas, I gave another bookstore co-worker the Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield dolls (but now I wish I’d gotten them for myself instead!).
On our first-anniversary trip to Disneyland, The Husband-Type Man (before he was THTM) bought me an Alice in Wonderland doll. Damn, she was cool!
The first Christmas I shared with my now-in laws, THTM’s mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. "Pioneer Barbie!" I exclaimed, having seen her at a store but unable to rationalize the $20 for her. "Are you serious?" Liz asked. "Of course I am!" And on Christmas day, yes, there was a Pioneer Barbie for me. "You know, I never bought a Barbie before," Liz told me, still a little bemused by the experience. I was touched that she’d done so for me.
When THTM and I got married, the little neighbor girl I used to baby-sit and play Barbies with (of course, she was in her 20s by this time) got me "Wedding Party Barbie" as a joke gift. How awesome!
When I went to meet my Psycho Duranie Friends e.Beth and Sheri for the first time, I was deeply impressed by their apartment décor… all pop star posters and Barbie dolls. No shame there! And then when all us Psycho Duranie Chix had our first Gathering, Milla brought a suitcase full of dollies… the Spice Girls and Mulder and Scully and Star Trek and-
When I got my Master’s, the Chix sent me Graduation Barbie as a present. Another friend got me a Brenda from 90210 doll. The Husband-Type Man got me Ultimate Hair Queen Amidala for my birthday. Awright!
Every so often, when I saw something really cheaply on sale (like the talking Darth Vader with removable helmet, or the Cinderella doll, or Riviera Barbie, each acquired for $3-5), I bought it… even though there was no room for stuff like that in our tiny apartments.
Me and THTM always joked that someday, when we had a house, we’d have a "Kiddie Room"… not for actual KIDS, though. Instead, we’d furnish it with kick-ass antique toys and stuff, and I’d set up the Barbie Dream House again, and we have a place for all of our accumulated Kiddie Books and our toys (because me and THTM saved all the books we read as kids, so we have full collections of the Little House books and the Narnia series and Oz and Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary and Shel Silverstein…. And we often got/get each other Christmas and Birthday gifts like army men and Magic Rocks and Matchbox cars and colored chalk and parachute men and-)….
The Playroom was, in fact, one of the first rooms here in The Mansion that we completely furnished. I rationalized it because we needed the Guest Space so Mother could stay with me for the first weekend I was here alone (and before all the other furniture had been delivered), but don’t be fooled… that Playroom was a priority! I snagged an old chenille bedspread from Gram, and took out of mothballs the afghan she’d made me for my 16th birthday. I set up all our Kiddie Books, and filled the closet with my old prom dresses and 80s outfits and dress-up vintage clothes. I finally organized five years of ‘Teen and Seventeen magazines into holders, and unpacked the few stuffed animals that’d been significant enough to me to be saved. I set up our newer toys, and made space for some of my Odd and Silly Things, too.
And, when Mom and Gram came to visit and brought me that special box that’d been stuck in the back of the storage shed for almost 20 years, I set up the Barbie Dream House.
I guess that’s when the Madness really started. I found myself drawn to every toy store and toy department in the greater LA area. When Klee came to visit, she and I ransacked a local K-Mart and discovered the Spice Girls dolls on sale for $2.99. I couldn’t go to the grocery store without at least peeking at the toy aisle to see if there was anything I needed. I started spending chunks of my personal money on Barbie stuff… outfits, dolls, furniture…. I told myself that as long as I didn’t buy anything over $5, it was okay, but, well, I couldn’t very well pass up that bodacious Action Man who was only $7, could I? Or what about these kick-ass Fashion Avenue outfits? Or man, I thought those Disney clothes from 6 years ago were good...? Look what the Disney Store has in stock now! I've learned that Toys R Us often had kewler shit, but that Kay-Bee has the best sales (I just got the Generation Girls there, marked down from $22 to only $7! I got a Luke Skywalker for $4, Queen Amidala/Padme for $3, and a Trendy Loft furniture set for $5). The "Marts" and Target also have pretty good sales, like the aforementioned Spice Girls dolls (and, as a bonus, I can price Powerpuff Girls curtains and ker-nifty fluorescent/fuzzy kids’ room accessories and stuff while I’m there). FAO Schwartz has awesome stuff, too, but it’s waaaay out of my price range… but I can’t help stopping in to covet a Midnight Moon Barbie or a Barbie Loves Frank Sinatra or a Breakfast at Tiffany’s Barbie. I’ll never actually buy that stuff, though… what fun is it if you can’t PLAY with it?!
It's pure hedonism, this addiction. Plus, it seems like there's so much more kewl stuff out now than there was when I was 8, 9, 10.... There are way more dolls, way different dolls, than when I was little. Instead of just two or three basic face molds and two or three different hair colors for Barbie, there's now literally dozens of possibilities. When I was little, Barbie pretty much came in black or white (or the aforementioned special Hispanic Barbie in 1980)... now there's Kira and Teresa, who're Polynesian, and Ana and Marissa, who're Mexican, a dozen different black Barbies (instead of the typical white face mold, only in black), not to mention all the Dolls of the World, from Ghana to Russia. There're Barbies with straight red hair, curly red hair, a dozen different shades of brunette, short hair, long hair, red streaks, blue streaks, multi-colored hair.... There's a doll of every possible Disney character, a doll from every possible historical era, dolls from movies and TV shows and fairy tales. There's a Britney Spears doll and a Christina Aguileradoll and Vitamin C and Club S7 and the Spicies and the 'NSync puppets.... There are more little kid dolls -- Kelly and Tommy and Chelsea and Melody -- than I can count. There's a teen Skipper as well as a pre-teen Skipper... plus all her friends... Whitney and Courtney and Stacie. There're "Friends of Barbie," from Rosie to Brandy to those wretched Olson twins. And there's way more than just one or two different boy dolls, too! There's Steven and Blaine and Todd, and there's Luke Skywalker and Jean-Luc Picard, and there's about 10 different GI Joes and that hunky stud Action Man... there's Ken with brown painted-on hair and there's Ken with dark fuzzy hair and there's Ken with blonde rooted hair... there's even gay Ken (oh, c'mon, RAINBOW PRINCE Ken?! You KNOW he's Earring Ken's boyfriend!). I'm currently grooving on the Generation Girls; I just got Lara and Blaine and Mari. The GenGirls challenge some of the old gendered stereotypes... Ana and Tori are competitive athletes, Mari's a radio station engineer, even Barbie's been honked up a bit and instead of the vapid movie star angle of the 70s, she's a serious thespian, studying theatre and production (as well as photography). There're social differences, too... Lara's and Blaine's parents are divorced. But, alas, the racial/cultural stereotypes are still pretty much intact... each of the Girls (and Boy) is from a Major World City: Lara, the artist, is from Paris... Ana, the body-board champ, from Mexico City. Mari, from Tokyo, loves video games and karaoke. Nichelle, the black Girl, is into "jazz, hip hop and bebop" and loves to dance. But despite that, the Girls are still pretty kick-ass! I HAVE to get the Chelsie Generation Girl... she's new. She's from London and writes poetry and music. She comes with her own bongos and maracas. Yeah!
The culmination of Barbie Madness came at Christmas last month. Upstairs in The Lounge, by the bubble-lights on the fake Christmas tree, The Husband-Type Man presented me with a large box. I opened it, and in the dim light, it took me a moment to realize that… it… was… crammed… full… with… Barbie clothes! He’d been bidding on, like, twenty different auctions on eBay. Most of the stuff was 80s-era, but he also got some handmade stuff from one person, and a pile of clothes circa my childhood from another. And when I saw not one, not two, but THREE complete Pretty Changes Barbie outfits (three mint-condition shawls like the tatty one I’d kept for all these years… plus the matching hats and jumpsuits I’d long since lost), when I saw the entire Beauty Secrets Barbie outfit in much better condition than the shredded one in a plastic bag with my other old clothes that’re too delicate now to play with, when I saw dresses that I’d wanted as a child but hadn’t gotten, or ones that had gotten lost or misplaced… I actually got a little teary. It’s kind of like I can go back and re-create parts of childhood now, but without all the Asshole Stepfather and Class Loser and Insecure stuff thrown in there….
Plus it gives me all sorts of new possibilities for website pictorials.
It’s funny… I’m not one of those cutesy teddy bears- and pink ruffles-loving girly-women. I also consider myself a feminist, and have problems with sexist images being presented to children. I'm 30 years old. But I won't give up my Barbies! "I’m going to go play Barbies," I’ll say to THTM on occasion… and when I’m stressed or blue or just plain in need of a creative jolt, I find that even ten minutes of futzing around in my Playroom makes me feel better. I’ve been struck with inspiration for stories. I’ve remembered happy times when I was little. I’ve discovered creative veins I hadn’t yet tapped (I mean, who would’ve guessed I could do so much with a couple cans of spray paint, huh?)….
And, of course, it gave me another Gratuitous Blather Subject, didn’t it?
Want to tell Dwanollah about your old Barbies? Heck, want to GIVE Dwanollah your old Barbies?
Okay, okay, just tell her about your own Dolly Memories, describe your current Barbie set-up, confess your weird modes of childhood play, or even suggest names for the JonBenet-like Crickmore Grandchildren, and you might find yourself featured here... and win a kick-ass Barbie-themed prize package, too!
Missed some Blathering? Check out the archives....