By Tobi Schwartz-Cassell
I have always been, and always will be, a Barbie Girl. My collection started with a hand-me-down Barbie and her sparse wardrobe. She had a long blonde ponytail–just like the one in this picture–except mine had only one leg.
I didn’t even want to speculate on what had happened to the amputated limb. I just avoided dressing her in the pants she showed up with, and opted instead for her long, pink ballgown.
On my birthday, my parents gave me a brand-new Barbie with all four appendages and a beautiful platinum blonde “bubble” hairdo. I was positively euphoric! Barbie and Barbie had a lot of fun together, as did I, their puppeteer.
As time went on, Ken joined in to make it a platonic threesome. The Barbies’ wardrobe grew, with both store-bought clothes and handmade pieces my mom would design and knit for them. Those girls were stylin’! But when they’d get dressed up to step out for the evening, all Ken had to choose from was a golf ensemble or swim trunks.
Eventually, Ken and the Barbies acquired a knock-off “11.5-inch doll” doctor’s office with cardboard snap-together furniture. Ken was instantly awarded his M.D., complete with a doctor’s white coat. One of the Barbies got a nurse’s uniform with a starched white cap. It sounds kind of weird now, but this was the 60s and though Mattel made career clothes for Barbie, they didn’t make attire for female doctors or male nurses.
Just the other day, I convened a business meeting with Catherine and BJ, and somehow, we got onto the subject of Barbies. (Yes, this is what happens when women meet for business—or at least for Girlfriendz Magazine business.) We eventually got back on topic, but before we did, BJ told us about her typical Barbie family with Barbie, Ken and Skipper. I’m guessing Ken was an insurance agent, Barbie was a homemaker and president of the PTA, and Skipper was a typical fifth grade girl who turned her nose up at spinach. Catherine’s Barbies, on the other hand, only owned outfits that corresponded to a career. She remembers naming one of her Barbies “Tina,” and writing curt notes to Ken like:
Make your own dinner tonight, Ken.
Catherine did not remember what Ken had done to provoke Barbie’s…I mean Tina’s…ire. And just like with my uni-leg Barbie, I chose not to speculate.
Eventually, Tressy joined my collection. (Remember her?) She had a short brown haircut with a ponytail at the top of her head. You could pull that ponytail all the way down to her feet! I never could figure out where all that hair was hidden, and didn’t put two and two together as to why she had a belly button that when pushed, sucked her hair back into her head. But again, I chose not to speculate.
Rounding out my collection was “Hi Heidi.” Much shorter than the 11.5-inch dolls, all she owned was the red dress on her back. But who cared? When you pushed the button on her tummy, her right arm would whip up toward the sky as if she were saying, “Hi!”
So, there they were—My Barbie Collection: Ken, Tressy, Hi Heidi, Barbie and Barbie. They made a cozy, sexless home in the cardboard doctor’s office (my parents couldn’t afford an actual Mattel Barbie Dream House) and they all lived happily ever after.
One Saturday afternoon when I was in middle school, I decided to visit my old Barbie Collection. I went down to the basement and couldn’t find it. My mom told me she and my dad had given it away. Gone. Lock, stock and doctor’s office. I was furious! How could they have done this to me?!
Naturally, my mom apologized profusely for not having checked with me first. She and my dad had assumed I wasn’t interested in playing with dolls anymore. Annoyed, I accepted the apology because I knew it was sincere. After all, they were correct in their assumption. But it took a long time to get over it.
I eventually did, of course, especially after they told me who they’d given it to. He was a man my dad worked with. They were a family in need and my parents wanted to help. So, my Barbie Collection became his daughter’s Christmas present that year. And this time, I allowed myself to speculate.
I envisioned her having a lot of fun with Barbie, Barbie, Hi Heidi and Tressy. Ken, too, even though his flocked hair had rubbed away long before. I’d taken care of business with a black magic marker and he looked just fine. In fact, the whole thing was fine because Nameless Little Girl was giving my old Barbies a new life.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized what my parents really had in mind. Though the phrase “paying it forward” wasn’t in usage back then, that’s what they were doing.
And it all started with some really nice person at my dad’s work who, so many years before, had given him a blonde one-legged Barbie doll to give to his daughter.
PS: My story has a second happy ending. My dear, childhood friend Barbara (who used to play Barbies with me) went on eBay and found an exact duplicate of my platinum blonde “bubble” hairdo Barbie, and gave it to me for my 40th birthday.
PPS: What’s your Barbie story? Did you have any of the ones I had? Which ones did you have? Please share it with me below.
BTW, the dolls pictured above were not mine. They are representative of the ones that my parents “paid forward.”
AND FINALLY, if those Barbie dolls at the very top of this page don’t look familiar to you, please consider joining our closed Facebook group, South Jersey Girls Who Wanna Have Fun.