I am a doll collector. My first personal doll acquisition was a Barbie. This is the story of how I came to be an eclectic doll collector.
When I saw the first Barbie commercial when I was three years old. I was smitten. The ad appealed to me on an elemental level. I said to myself I MUST have that doll. I remember trying to explain to my Mother and Grandmother that I HAD to have that doll.
The song in the commercial went “Barbie she’s beautiful…someday I'll be like her, but just for now I'll just pretend that I am you.” I wanted to be an adult. My mother and grandmother said ” you should have a little girl doll because you are a little girl.” I knew I wanted to be an adult and have fabulous clothes and go on adventures. Barbie would be my companion on that journey.
I continued to request a “Barbie” for Christmas and my birthdays. I had hopes for Christmas. With great anticipation, I recall dreaming of my Barbie. Christmas morning lo and behold I received the most beautiful doll! Was it a Barbie? No…..it was a “Vogue Baby Dear” it was a beauty and so cuddly I fell in love with her. My mother gave me all the baby clothes that were mine and my brothers. I was truly delighted. My birthday followed in February; my grandmother gave me a beautiful Perego coach baby carriage. I asked for a Barbie and was met with the response ”I thought you loved “Baby Dear.” I felt a tremendous amount of guilt, but I still wanted “Barbie.” I was a great fan of the Mickey Mouse club, and the Barbie ad regularly ran so I would not forget the doll of my dreams.
The following Christmas you know what I asked for, a Barbie of course. No luck. I received an Ice skater doll that had wire armature to pose her. The down side was she was stuck on her stand, and her clothes were not changeable. Baby dear was unimpressed. I also received that year a doll swing for Baby Dear. I had high hopes for my next birthday. My mother was excited when she got home from shopping. “Did you get me a Barbie?” I queried. She replied: “I got you a better doll. "Better I thought to myself what could be better?” I then was presented with a sweet little “Betsey McCall” I was told, “You are a little girl, you should have a little girl doll.” For some reason, I started to cry with disappointment the lump in my throat was hard to swallow. I was told “You are too little for a doll like Barbie” I remember playing with Betsey and pretending she was Barbie.
It never made sense to me why I was too little for a Barbie, yet I was old enough to pretend to be a mother and to be responsible for Baby Dear. My dear great Aunt Mable saw my disappointment and said she would get me a doll like Barbie. I eagerly awaited that birthday gift she and my grandmother worked very hard together to give me the doll of my dreams. They presented me with a box and watched me expectantly. I opened it and what did I see but two well turned out “Dutchess Dolls” They crocheted clothes for them. I was delighted at the clothes, and the dolls were indeed pretty. I enjoyed them tremendously. See they said, “You don’t need a Barbie”….I just smiled and nodded. I knew I didn’t NEED a Barbie….I WANTED a Barbie!
Barbie was revolutionary in the world of dolls. She actually lived IN the world and there was a lot for her to see and do. I wanted to be that way. I discovered that Barbies appearance was modeled after a doll called “Bild Lilli” in Germany. This doll Lilli was not a child's plaything. It was sold in “adult” stores and smoke shops, it was given as gag gifts, and men would give it as a purient gift to their girlfriends. Knowing this it is no wonder my mother and grandmother and Aunts reacted as they did at the time. Before Bild_Lilli was a doll she also was a comic strip character. She was a stereotypical bimbo personae.
Ruth Handler (co-founder of Mattel)and her daughter Barbara went on vacation to Switzerland they saw Lilli and brought her back home to California. “Barbie” was named after Ruth Handler's daughter. Barbie introduction to the American toy scene came at the International Toy Fain in New York in 1959. Barbie was definitively sexier than most American dolls of her day. Ruth Handler thought it was reasonable. The following was part of her obituary in the New York Times in 2002.
“Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future,” she said, To depict the adult that the child would someday be. THAT is why I wanted a Barbie.
For my 9th Birthday, I asked again for a Barbie. All my friends had Barbies. My mother said to me “If you want THAT doll you are going to have to buy it yourself” The light bulb went on in my head! Could I do that? I really could! It was an epiphany moment. The first thing that Barbie taught me was how to save for something I wanted. It took from February until July for me to save up that much money. I did get her in July of 1965. I went with my friend to a local toy store and bought a “side swirl ponytail Barbie. “ I waited till I got home to open the box. I sat on the front porch steps with reverent anticipation and opened the box to see her perfectly coifed hair and beautiful face. I was in heaven.
My friends and I were avid Barbie fans. So much so we decided to make our own club. The boys on my friends block all had GI Joes at the time. So we made “The GI Joe and Barbie Club” We would put a blanket down on the side of the concrete driveway and sit there with our Barbie cases. The boys would run to us with their GI Joes and say “we are going off to war now!” All the Barbies would say “Goodbye Be Careful” they would reply that they “shall return”. We would carry on with our doll families, and they would be off to war. The war consisted of the GI Joes lined up and being “Bombed with Basketballs.” This scenario went on for most of the summer of 1965.
Barbie dolls now have had almost every occupation astronaut, soldiers, teachers, veterinarians, doctors, Barbie has even run for president. Barbie also has taken the forms of celebrities. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Star Trek, Rosie Odonnell, Mrs Albee (the first Avon Lady),are just a few. There are also different size Barbies The 12-inch fashion doll has been by far the most popular but there have been 18 inch as well as three foot high dolls. Now there are even Barbies that have a more realistic body image: fashionistas and everyday people of all different races and nationalities. One thing is for sure; Barbie has reflected our changing society and the ever-widening path of opportunities for women have been exemplified by all the roles and incarnations Barbie has embraced.