In the Land of Tarty Barbies
February 18, 2004
OK, y’all, we are now going to talk about Barbie.
When I was growing up, I loved Barbie. I didn’t have a thousand Barbies like the Barbies of today. There was no Wizard of Oz Barbie, no Audrey Hepburn Barbie; there was just Barbie, in a swimsuit, with high-heel pink shoes. You bought outfits for your one, or two, or three Barbies if you were kind of spoiled. Maybe your sister had a Barbie that you would play with, but if your sister was like mine, her Barbie had chopped-off hair, tempera-painted makeup, and the permanently high-heel arched feet had the toes snipped off. I felt kind of sorry for my sister’s pathetic Barbie. I still have my two Barbies, with their friend Malibu Ken with Plastic Hair, along with their wardrobes, circa 1971.
On Presidents’ Day (this past Monday to our friends abroad), I had an emergency holiday playgroup which at one point involved seven minivans, eighteen children, a group of desperate mothers, and three pots of coffee. Included in this group were a bunch of little girls, and when it became apparent that a house with two boys meant no toys for girls, I brought out my Barbies.
Off the girls went to the playroom, where they put together many different outfits for Barbie: Hooker Barbie, with see-through negligee and thigh-high silver lame boots. Pam Am Stewardess Barbie, complete with Bonne Marie Bucket o’ Chic hat. Gigolo Ken, with a blue satin tuxedo jacket worthy of any 1972 prom.
Any mom who worries that the new Bratz dolls are kind of slutty needs to come see my Barbies.
As I cleaned up, at the bottom of the pile of Barbie clothes I found this:
A raglan-sleeve sweater my mother knitted for Barbie. I want to show you this for several reasons: a) It’s so teeny and cute. b) It proves once and for all that my neverending love of bland color is genetic. And c) It makes me laugh to think of my mom seeing my boxful of tarty Barbie clothes and thinking, What that doll needs is a cardigan.
My mother, who died twenty years ago, was a sucker for anything crafty: knitting, needlepoint, watercolor, embroidery, sewing, macrame, quilling, furniture refinishing, upholstery, decoupage, photography, graphic arts. I would go to sleep and wake up to find that she had finished the dress she had just been starting when I went to bed. She figured out (as I have) that late nights are often a delicious time for making something, after everybody else has gone to bed.
She was a funny kind of person. At one point she would spend mornings in our neighbor’s weird Japanese garden, painting watercolors. I remember coming home one day to find her curled up with a ball of impossibly thin thread; she decided she wanted to figure out tatting, a dreadfully tiny kind of lace.
I have a massive urge to make a tiny raglan-sleeve cardigan for a Barbie.