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Judi and Joni: “Rulers of their Barbie Universe”

1959-barbie

All photos: Copyright Mattel

Today – Judi, aka Sumac Sue, shares her memories of growing up with Barbie. Thank you so much for contributing this, Judi — you are a beautiful writer and story-teller!

My younger sister, Joni, and I probably got our first Barbies in 1963, when she was in kindergarten and I was in second grade. These were the Barbies with hair in a ponytail with a fringe of bangs in front, sultry eye makeup, and pert red mouth. These features, along with a rather long, slender body, made the Barbie mildly similar to Audrey Hepburn….

…. Over time, we acquired Ken dolls with peach fuzz hair, a Midge with freckles and a strawberry blonde flip, and a Skipper with long blonde hair and funny flat feet. There were two more Barbies, one who came with several wigs, and one with hair that changed colors. Finally, we got tiny dolls called Liddle Kiddles, that we pretended were Barbie and Skipper’s little sisters. This was the extent of our Barbie Family. We stored them all in black Barbie suitcases that opened up into little dressing rooms, with storage and hanging compartments.

1962-barbieWe had a few “real” Barbie outfits, but most of our Barbie clothes were made by our mom. A favorite Barbie memory is of Joni and me sitting on the floor wrapping scraps of fabric around our Barbies as Mom sat at the sewing machine, stitching up such ensembles as a nurse’s uniform complete with cape and cap and a satin wedding dress and gauzy veil. Nothing demonstrates a mother’s love quite like sewing teensy tiny buttons onto a sportcoat for Ken.

Barbies have gotten a lot of criticism over the years for supposedly being sexist toys that stifle girls’ development, presenting an image of women as pretty objects interested only in fashion and traditional female roles. I think that sort of view of Barbie is off base, because it doesn’t take into consideration that any toy, including Barbie, can be a launching point for a child’s creativity and imagination. When we played with Barbies, we each became rulers of our Barbie universe, and there was nothing stifling about it.

1963-Barbie-Fashion-QueenFor instance, Joni and I received a Barbie newsletter, in which girls shared ideas on how to make things for Barbie from items found around the house. We were networking! By sharing ideas, we all became architects and interior designers — and recyclers, too — by making houses out of shoe boxes, and tables and chairs out of popsicle sticks and margarine tubs. We developed organizational skills, not to mention dexterity, by storing tiny accessories in old pill bottles and Band-aid boxes.

We kept this up until we hit junior high. Other activities took the place of Barbie, and our black cases stayed on the toy shelf. My sister never had children, so she still has her Barbie and Ken in their black case. I had a daughter, and I made the mistake a lot of moms make — I presented Kaitlin with her first Barbie when she was much too young to appreciate it. She promptly stuck it into a fountain at the park and used it as a tool for splashing her brother.

I waited a few years before letting her play with my old Barbies, but she never was as interested in Barbies as she was in her Beanie Babies and Pound Puppies. She received several Barbies from relatives for birthdays, an older cousin passed along her Barbies, and in time, my black Barbie case contained a tossed Barbie salad of tangled hair, detached arms and legs, wrinkled dresses, and tiny shoes scattered throughout like croutons. At some point I threw it all into a box of things headed for Goodwill. I regret doing that now because I’m sure there were a few outfits in there made by my mom. I wish I would have given them to Joni, to put into her Barbie archives.

So far, my favorite Barbie is actually one I gave as a gift to Joni a few years ago. It was a country girl Barbie, dressed in a straw hat and gingham dress, that I ordered off of a box of Little Debbie Snack Cakes. She loved it. Maybe someday I will have a granddaughter and I will get her a Barbie — but I will wait until she is seven or eight and is old enough to take care of it.

Can’t wait to hear more Barbie stories!

Judi

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  1. Freddie says:

    I had always been one that liked to get my hands dirty and play with GI Joes. However, Barbies provided them with dates and spouses in play. I learned that it takes more time for females to get ready for going out than guys. Therefore, I need to provide more time for my old girlfriends and wife to get ready for events.

  2. sumacsue says:

    Jan, you are so right about Vera-ellen as a model for Barbie. I never noticed that before, even though I love those holiday movies. My Barbie had brown hair, so that is why I thought she looked like Audrey Hepburn.

    Barb Scott, we have similar taste in toys. I still have my childhood Etch-a-Sketch, and my sister has her Lite Brite. Our Spirograph disappeared along the way, but I found one with all the parts at a yard sale last year, and gave it to my stepson’s girlfriend, who is an artist. Did you have the Think-a-tron? My sister still has it, too. But, alas, one of our favorites, the Showboat Majestic Theatre, floated away somewhere. Our Barbies would sit on the floor and watch Showboat Majestic performances of plays like “Heidi.” My parents were super toy picker-outers back in the old days. But then, they had so many great toys to pick from.

  3. Entirely fabulous story. One of the problems with all the modern dolls and often modern Barbies, is that they come with pre-prescribed furniture and clothes, now so cheap and freely available. it doesn’t allow for children to use there imaginations and creativity. Having an experience like yours, is what develops the designers of tomorrow.

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