Sometimes, what goes around comes around. Twice.
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.
August 10, 2019 @ 6:48 pm
I’m so lucky that your mom knit dresses for my Barbies!!
August 8, 2019 @ 8:42 pm
Oh my gosh, my sister and I had a STEAMER Trunk full of Barbie;s and clothing for them. I had a rigid leg blonde Barbie as my first. Then Barbies started getting bendy legs. I had a Blonde Haired Ken and my sister got a dark haired one, but she named him Derek because she had a crush on a kid in elementary school called Derek. The crush didn’t last, but the name stuck. We both got cute Red headed Midge Dolls, and so we wouldn’t get too confused, I named mine Madge. My sister had a Skipper. We had another doll called Maxi who was just a little larger than the Barbies so she never quite fit the clothing right. Another doll was named Dana (she had awesome cowboy boots and LONG black hair) and I had another Barbie who I cut their hair. I think I called her Vanessa and she ROCKED that short spiky hair cut.
Our Barbies came everywhere with us and had so many adventures. I remember hours swimming in our above ground pool playing with our favorites. (I believe Derek may have lost an arm in a tragic pool accident?) And our Barbies frequently had babies or were pregnant. There were strange cross overs with she-ra, he-man, and the ewoks.
My mother tells the story that when I was very young I played funeral with my Barbies for a long time after I attended my great grandmother’s services. As a child development specialist, my mom knew it was a way for my young self to explore and come to understand the incident. Not so sure many other parents would have been so understanding.
August 8, 2019 @ 10:51 am
They are worth money now. I wish I would have kept mine. Also I had the Barbie and Ken cars. You never know what’s going to be worth money down the road.
August 8, 2019 @ 6:55 am
I’m 64 and I have my bubble hair Barbie. So glad I was able to keep her.
August 8, 2019 @ 5:44 am
I had Barbie, Ken, Skipper, and Barbie had a girlfriend as well, but I’ve forgotten her name.
My aunt at the time was a seamstress and made them the most beautiful clothes. In fact, she made Barbie a wedding gown and Ken a tuxedo, so they could marry , and no longer live in sin. I also had the vinyl case, where you could hang up all of their clothes, and house one of them ( they took turns) when I was finished playing.
Unfortunately, when I was younger, I decided to play hairdresser and cut off all of their hair. Otherwise, they could have been worth a bundle. My mom bought me a package of wigs, but that just wasn’t the same,
Enjoyed your story. It brought me back to a more innocent and happy time. Thank you.
August 8, 2019 @ 12:43 am
My Barbie story has so much fun and such fond memories. I played with barbies till probably I was too old. Like middle school age. All of my friends loved them too. I had the Barbie townhouse with the cool elevator, the Barbie pink corvette, the pool, tons of clothes and skipper, ken and so many barbies. I used to name them Jen and Hilary. Andrea too. I thought those names were so pretty. She always had a fascinating job and looked gorgeous. It was such a great time using my imagination and having barbies. I still have some in my attic.
August 8, 2019 @ 8:45 pm
I definitely played with my Barbies past age 13. My sister is 2 years younger than me and we had EPIC adventures with them and as we grew up, hitting those middle school years, Barbies was a sort of neutral ground that we could play on. So maybe “too old” but important.