Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Still Playing with Dolls

I had a few dolls that I loved growing up in the 1950s--Chatty Cathy and Barbie were two of my favorites. I still have both of them, even though my mom gave away my Barbie dolls (plus suitcase AND wardrobe, can you imagine?) to my nieces when I was in college. I didn't really care at the time, but one day when I was a little older and visiting my sister's home I saw one of MY precious Barbies and her clothes strewn all over the playroom floor. The girls obviously didn't care about them because they were considered "old"-- from 1960 or so--and not like the cool "Malibu" Barbies. I quickly got a bag and threw whatever I could find that used to be mine into it and right then and there "reclaimed" my childhood. I was able to salvage one good blonde bubblecut Barbie and a few outfits. So glad I did. After my daughter turned 3 or so I would occasionally bring out my dolls and show her what mommy played with when she was little. Ponytail Barbie, my first, was lost forever.

Barbie turned 50 (!) last year and I was feeling nostalgic so I treated myself--I bought an old Barbie catalog and the suitcase I used to have from eBay (Oh, the memories!). 

Every now and then I try to see if I can find something else to add to my growing collection while I'm browsing the flea markets or antique malls. Buying them on eBay can get expensive. My daughter gets a really big kick out of this--I guess it's fun to see her "old" mom excited about toys and it gives her a glimpse into my own childhood.

Do you know that the original dolls are so collectible now that they can go for hundreds on eBay?? Don't laugh but I've been on a mission to find all of the outfits and accessories I had as a child and replace the ones that are missing. I'm also tempted to buy some I really really wanted but couldn't afford back then. My allowance in 1960: maybe 50 cents a week? Some of that went toward necessities--penny candy, gum, or comic books, so I had to wait for birthdays or Christmas to acquire more outfits.  Between me and Audrey McGee, my best friend when I was nine, we had just about every Barbie outfit Mattel ever sold.

Apparently I'm not alone in this nostalgic Barbie collecting business, because the prices for these things have become ridiculous, through the roof. All the antiques dealers know what Baby Boomers will pay for the dolls and their clothing, so they get to the flea markets first and buy up all the good stuff and then mark it up 500%. But sometimes you can get lucky and the flea market is fun for stuff like that--I found 2 Barbie outfits in not-bad condition for $5.00 each last summer. That keeps me going.

I'm really not into antique dolls much, just Barbies, and I'll bet that surprises some of you, considering my penchant for antique quilts. Quilts yes, dolls not so much. There are always quite a few old dolls at the flea market. They're fun to look at but I don't want to buy any.

I guess I never cared much for the real antique ones  because they weren't from my own childhood; I didn't play with them and so there aren't any memories attached. The dolls on the covers of my books are not mine--they were all just props my publisher used and I have no real attachment to them either, although I do love the cloth dolls designed by Gail Wilson in my first two books and have one myself that was given to me. I couldn't offer up my own dolls for props in my books--you can't use Barbie with antique-looking quilts, can you? She's much too cool for that. And, besides, look at that eyeliner--imagine what that would to do a quilt, LOL.

I think we should collect what we love and what makes us feel good and captures our hearts. As far as dolls go, for me that was always Barbie, the original Barbie. But she came under a lot of criticism after the '60s--that she was way too sexy for little girls to play with and a poor role model. I never really bought into the idea that playing with her somehow damaged my self-esteem, forced me to grow up too fast or caused me to have unrealistic "body" issues when I grew up. Honestly, my self esteem never came from dolls and anyway, who really wanted to look like her? Yikes! Playing with Barbie was just plain fun and it was MAKE BELIEVE. Like Harry Potter, she's not REAL, people. And it was fun because I coveted her clothes--they were so meticulously designed. Classy and sophisticated, with real working zippers and tiny accessories.

I read that Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, said she thought that girls projected themselves into their imaginary play with dolls. When they play, little girls often want to be older girls or grown up. They could project who they wanted to be someday onto the adult dolls they played with. So, in some ways, Barbie may have actually helped girls begin practicing other roles, besides being a mother, early on. Barbie could do anything and she may have empowered girls to travel or work at a time when the only role available to them may have been the role of mother, for instance, when they played with baby dolls in the '50s. Not that there was anything wrong with wanting to be a mother. I wanted to be a mother too. With great clothes! It's just nice to see girls have choices.

Barbie the career girl

Barbie the astronaut

Mostly, I just craved her contemporary wardrobe and had a lot of fun collecting the clothes and accessories. My older sisters wore "cool" clothes and makeup and I wanted to be like my sisters when I grew up. They did NOT look like Barbie, by the way.

So yeah, I was a Barbie girl in 1960 and I'm not embarrassed to admit it. And now that I think about it, Barbie probably did affect my self esteem, but in a good way--I learned to have a fashion sense at an early age and even now I know a good outfit when I see one.


Terry said...

I took my Barbies with me when I moved out many, many years ago. I did let my niece play with them (with supervision) when she was little, and then my daughter too when she came along. Now I've given my daughter everything I had, including some handmade clothes my great grandmother made for them. Sometimes it's good to hold onto these things...but for me it was even better to let them go! :0)

Heather said...

Isn't it funny the crazy things people came up with to "put Barbie down"? My Mom (birthmom) hated Barbie and I never had one as a child. I was given one once and she threw it in the trash compactor! Then later in life when my Step-Mom was cleaning out her Father's house so he could move she found her old dolls and gave me her Barbie. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but I knew it was special and somehow had the sense that I would covet it later in life, so I put it aside in a box for safe keeping. A few years ago I had her appraised at $300-$500 from a lady who runs Calgary's local Barbie collector club. Crazy!

Anonymous said...

My Mom gave away all of my Barbie dolls, clothing, and a wooden home for her. It had closets that opened and closed, a bathroom, and a kitchen with "real" food, etc. The bed had sheets.

It was a dark day...

I still have my Tiny Tears doll though, with her green forehead, because I used to give her a bath every night and wash her hair.

Barb said...

Hi -
I loved your barbie post.
I have a collection of Barbie things and I treasure them all. But mostly it's my blue square carrying case and my 2 twin, fold down Sleep and Keep, circa 1970 - very groovy.
My name is Barbara and I was born in 1962, guess what I wall called all through my girlhood ;)

Mary Z in IL said...

I used to sew and knit Barbie outfits for my younger sister and my daughter. I wish I had some of them now! I left all of my things for my sister to play with when I left home and later on when I realized I should have kept some, they were gone. I guess my Mother decided to clean house and probably assumed that since I hadn't taken them that I didn't want them. I made a lot of tiny knitted clothes.
I also had a wonderful little wood china cabinet with a tiny tea set and some other china dishes. I think my Uncle may have made it for me. I sure wish I had that now!! Mary Z in IL

Jocelyn said...

My pony tail Barbie was left behind when we moved back to Florida. I am so sad that we were not able to bring her with us. I did keep my daughter's Barbie dolls after she grew out of playing with them. But they are not the vintage ones that were so loved and cherished back in our day.

carol fun said...

I really like this post about Barbie. I had a ponytail one (in the black/white stripe bathing suit) and a platinum bubble cut one too and I loved playing with them. I agree with you that I loved pretending to be anything I wanted to be and I thought Barbie's wardrobe was so pretty. My grandma use to spoil me and bought me tons of outfits. I have such wonderful memories of Barbie and my Grandma. Thanks for letting me take a walk down memory lane.

carol fun

Lainee said...

I still have my 1962 blonde bubble cut Barbie (like astronaut Barbie) and her original stripe swimsuit and high heels. Plus my mother bought patterns and made a lot of cloths for her. I still have most of them. Lucky for Barbie that I wasn't much of a doll player.

Christine Staver said...

I never had a real Barbie. I had some knockoff doll although I had a Midge and a Ken doll. I never had store bought clothing because my Mom made us tons of clothes including gowns and wedding dresses.

Miriam said...

I still have my first Barbie, and a Skipper!
My Mum made a whole wardrobe of clothes for my Barbies and I still have most of them. My DD used to play with them sometimes too.
I started sewing by making dresses for my Barbies. :)

Louise said...

My most memorable Christmas present was a Barbie wardrobe that my Mom sewed and knitted. Years ago I gave my dolls, clothes and suitcase to my niece, who is now 30. I don't really want them back, but sometimes wonder what happened to them. I'm afraid to ask! The dolls, to me, were just dolls...but the memories are precious. Louise

Karen said...

Kathleen, I can't believe how much you sound like me about Barbie. I loved my Barbie. She had the brunette bubble cut hairdo. I played with her for hours everyday until I was 13years old. I had Ken, Skipper, Scooter and Ricky too. I still have my Barbie, but gave the rest of the dolls to my cousin. She still has them all along with her own.
A couple of years ago,I went through the same thing you are going through now. Buying up a few outfits from the past, along with the suitcase, etc. There are some things in life that are hard to part with especially the items that brought us happy memories from our childhood.

Beth said...

I loved my Barbies too. My favorite thing to do was change her clothes. I loved all her cool outfits.
Do you remember the Barbie that came with three wigs? Loved changing her hair.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Yes, I had that one too! My 4 sisters were all much older than me and had jobs so I was a little spoiled when I was younger. On Fridays (payday) once a month one of then would take me to the toy store to buy a new Barbie outfit which is how I was able to have so many. Of course, I remember some of them only cost $.79 or $1.00 at the time.

No one in my family would have ever thought to sew any doll clothes for me--they were not crafty that way. I made clothes for my nieces' Barbies (MY Barbies, you could say) when I was in college and that's how I began to sew.

Connie204 said...

Thanks for the memories. I also had the Barbies and unfortunately my Mom also cleaned house when I was in my teens. I do, however, still have my Betsy McCall doll, that I found in the attic after my Mom pasted away. Connie204

Sandra Henderson said...

Great blog! Glad I found YOU! XO

Mary @ Neat and Tidy said...

My favorite dolls were both Barbie and Chatty Cathy!!! I think you might be my sister :D

What a great post; I love your blog.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Mary, if you're my sister, will you buy me some Barbie outfits?? LOL

Pat said...

Oh, how I loved your Barbie story. I too had Barbie and almost everything that was part of the Barbie lifestyle. My mother did not save anything from my childhood. She is a neat freak - she gave all of my Barbie dolls and accessories to the neighbor girl. I don't have anything from my Barbie collection. I have admired them at flea markets, antique shops, and on e-bay. I just can't take the "plunge". I have so much "stuff" that another collection might put me over edge to qualify as a certified "hoarder".

Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

~Kris~ said...

What a fun post. I still have my ponytail Barbie and a large box of clothes. Most of my clothes were handmade, but I have a box of shoes and a few store bought outfits.

I have my Chatty Cathy, but she doesn't talk very well. My brother tied a knot in her string on Christmas Day and she always had the hiccups after that!

I also have my Tiny Terry Lee doll. My sister had the full size Terry Lee.

What great memories!

Susan said...

My pony tail Barbie has green ears from wearing the same ear rings for 50 years! My hair has turned Barbie is still blond !