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Wimpy Girl Barbie

I have never been much of a girly girl. Early on, I preferred to play outdoors, things like war, cowboys, and King of the Mountain. I could never keep my shirt clean, hated clothes with ruffles, and was offended when the kindergarten dress code required that girls wear dresses to school. How on earth were we supposed to whiz down a slide in the Texas heat, or hang upside down on the monkey bars in a dress? Good grief, what were they thinking? I was a tomboy and determined to remain one.

And then, Mattel gave birth to a toy that would change everything for girls my age. Barbie was born in 1959 when I was in kindergarten, and to this day, I’m convinced that the toy gurus at Mattel created her just for me.

So, as a 5-year-old, how did I even know about Barbie?

It certainly wasn’t through tv commercials. This was the olden days, folks. My brother Dub and I very seldom watched television. We were too busy outdoors building forts and planning how to outsmart imaginary bad guys or just chasing each other around the backyard. Besides, back then, there were only 3 tv channels and we had a monster set equipped with a rabbit-ear antenna that Daddy had to adjust or hang tin foil on to make the tv screen fuzziness go away. I don’t think that kid toy commercials were made for rambunctious children back then.

But, every year, right about the time school started, we were exposed to the absolute best child marketing campaign ever. I’ve often wondered if Don Draper and his team of madmen were behind it. Each September, delivered right to our front door we received (drumroll please) two catalogs, one from Montgomery Wards, and the holy grail of the duo, the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Wish Book catalog. A few years later J.C. Penney joined the pair. The three were each delivered by guys walking around to each house accompanied by another dude driving slowly behind them in a truck with a bed full of the precious things.

Forget the clothes, furniture, and other adult stuff that these wonder books offered. Dub and I flipped immediately to the toy section, which normally took up over half of each book.

Sears must have had a symbiotic thing going with Mattel in 1960, because they made Barbie look good, real good, over the top, stupendously awesome to five-year-old girls, specifically yours truly. I had to have her and was willing to do anything, even start acting like a girl, to make it happen. Poor Dub would have to wait 4 more years for his dream doll, oops, I mean action figure, to be born. Like a war bride, my Barbie pined away at the window anticipating the day that the true man of her dreams, Dub’s G.I. Joe, would come home.

I digress. Back to Sears. I think they probably collected extortion money from my parents because it was their catalog and my Barbie craving that turned me into the girly daughter that my mother had always dreamed of, ruffles and all. Even at 5, I knew how to work the system, and that Christmas Barbie, THE Barbie because I was convinced that my doll was unique, was mine.

Now, I’m sure most of you have seen or played with a Barbie. Mine came from the beta batch. They worked out the kinks in design, appeal, and overall “play” power with girls my age. Here are the things I remember about my fashionable girl.

She had a black, wire easel thing that came with her because without it she couldn’t stand up on her own. Her feet were not flat, so she was perpetually on tiptoe, poor thing.

Barbie was made from stiff plastic, so her arms and legs were rigid, unbendable at her elbows and knees. Action poses were not possible but, just like the fashion models she emulated, it was impossible for her to slouch. Her posture was always impeccable, poor thing.

Unlike the rest of her body, Barbie’s head was made of squishy, soft plastic, removable, and completely hollow. Her ears were pierced and as an accessory tiny sets of earrings were available for an add-on purchase. Every respectable Barbie owner wouldn’t dare let her superstar doll be seen without the latest accessories, and shoes, swimsuits, sportswear, evening dresses, and eventually dream car, dream house, dream pool, etc. You see, we original Barbie owners were visionaries. We did a lot of dreaming, and our parents shelled out a lot of bucks to support our fantasies. Poor things.

Yep, Barbie helped me to find my feminine side. During those early years, I saw myself just like her, wearing beautiful clothes, living in a pink house, and driving a luxury sports car. I saw myself being popular, having boyfriends, and becoming queen of the prom even before I knew what a prom was. And don’t forget perky boobs. I wanted mine to look just like Barbie’s. Still do.

Barbie was good for me, I guess. I still played outside but on bad weather days, Barbie was my dream girl. My mother was pleased. She finally had a daughter who appreciated girl stuff. But then one day she walked into my room and found me playing with my Barbie decked out in G.I. Joe’s fatigues.

She asked me what was going on. I explained that Barbie was kicking back on her day off and chilling out was hard to do in an evening dress. My mom smiled and sat down next to me. I continued, “Since it’s her day off, I’ll bet she would like some chocolate ice cream too, and we wouldn’t want any to spill on her prom dress.”

She looked down at me and sighed, “I think you’re right.”


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Kathleen Schwertlich
Kathleen Schwertlich
11 months ago

I must have gotten, my blonde haired like my mom Barbie that first Christmas. My sister, Sylinda got the ponytail blonde Barbie like her. I had the case, & some clothes. The hours I played with her were great. Then a switcher roo happened when I went to Lions Camp For Crippled Children…my sister insisted she always had the one that looked like mom, & I had the one that looked like her. I fought like crazy to get mine back-somehow when I was finally married & my mom shoved stuff my way, there was my Barbie Case…that dern Sylinda doll was my inheritance.

11 months ago

So does Sylinda still have yours?

11 months ago

At Thanksgiving every year, my brothers and sisters and I were given the new Sears Wish Book and told to make a list of things we wanted to give to the aunts and grandmothers. We never got everything on our lists, because when faced with such variety of incredible products, we got stars in our eyes and wanted everything. As it inevitably turned out, we got one or two things from our wishlist, and the rest was underwear and socks—not what an 8 year-old wants. But I remember the year I got a Barbie (after asking for one endlessly!), and every time my mother made a dress for herself, she used the fabric scraps to make a matching outfit for my Barbie. (Oedipal issues…what, me?!?)

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This work by Anel “Pookie” Ryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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