Being a bit behind, I’ve only just seen the new Barbie movie. This isn’t a review or critique as I’m still sort of processing what I think (although I found bits very funny and I bet they had a blast making it). It’s just a reflection on something raised by an article on it.
My younger sister and I never had Barbies. This may have been to do with expense, although I think my parents possibly thought Barbie a little too grown-up looking and stereotypical.
One of us possibly had a passed-down Sindy, and we definitely had Pippa and Marie (more tweenager in shape, more diverse in skin tone at the time – Pippa having fair hair and skin and Marie having brown hair and skin). At some point, our Marie even obtained a horse.
They never had many spare clothes so my main involvement with them was making things. I made Marie a wardrobe out of a shoebox for the few clothes she had (semi-success), attempted a stable for the horse with lolly sticks (epic fail) and I learned to sew clothes that fitted by designing and making some for my sister’s bigger dolls.
I didn’t like dolls themselves much as you can read here, but I coveted pretty clothes in which I planned to sit around looking elegant. My sister loved dolls, but didn’t particularly care about clothes, since she thoroughly liked getting grubby while making dens. Yet she got the pretty clothes made for her, and I got the sensible ones. The memory is so firmly wedged, that her frilly Alice in Wonderland dress even got into a story ‘Ice Cream On Monday’ which is in Kindling, about an incident in a South Welsh chapel when we were eight and five, in which it played a key part.
Don’t be fooled into thinking I knew about fashion. I didn’t. I just knew I wanted to be elegant. Spoiler Alert: I’ve never succeeded.
When I had my own children, a boy and a girl, I bought them some second-hand Barbies at a toy sale. I possibly felt the same as my parents had about her general shape but the kids were oblivious. The Barbies hung out with a slightly scary edition of GI Joe (who had a rather lethal grappling hook that ‘accidentally’ disappeared before it took someone’s eye out) which my son had been given, and all three drove about in a jeep, occasionally taking death-defying leaps off the landing and down the stairs. My daughter was just as lacking in doll nurturing urges as I was and less interested in doll clothes. So the poor Barbies were generally nude, or had their clothes on their heads as hats, and my daughter gave them rather uneven haircuts. (If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ll know what this means.)
Anyway, going back to the article mentioned above. It had been prompted by the film, and talked about how girls are expected to leave behind their toys as they move into the adult world. It’s assumed that boys, however, will continue playing with them forever, no matter how old they are.
I thought about it and remembered that when I was a child, there was definitely a point, between ages ten and twelve, when girls just stopped cycling, running about, playing chase, making dens, etc etc. Being a bit behind the loop on the maturity front, I dropped out of Girl Guides early on, because while I wanted to talk about woodcraft, when the other girls seemed to be more interested in pop stars. However, by the age of twelve, without gaining much interest in pop stars (except for David Soul who wrote ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’ just for me), I stopped playing in the same way as I had as a child. I learned how to cook and sew – sensible pursuits, even if pastimes. I stopped making plasticine and papier-mâché models of characters from the stories in my head. I stopped climbing trees and making dens. I didn’t ride a bicycle again until I was nearly twenty. But the boys never seemed to stop.
One morning at a toddlers’ group many many years ago, some of the mums (including me) had sat down with our children and tried to engage them in colouring-in, partly because we were all shattered and wanted them to calm down a bit. The children weren’t remotely interested. There were toys to play with, they didn’t want to sit still. We gave up on them, but decided just to sit there, colouring in some Princesses and animals with stubby crayons. We chewed the fat and had an immensely chill time, before it was time for tea/coffee and homemade cake (which was usually the best bit of toddlers’ group). That was perhaps the first time for many years that I’d done something ‘pointless’ (unless you count unrequited love).
Going back to Barbie (again), I shared the article about the film among my friends, and the responses, all from women, mostly professional, were very interesting. Whether they’d loved dolls or not, there was an outpouring of nostalgia and affection not only for long lost toys, but for the freedom to play make-believe. Or is it that we all longed for permission to do it again?
I think that part of the reason why I’ve started dabbling with art this year, is to give myself permission to just do something with no particular purpose. No one is going to give me space in the National Gallery. I doubt they’ll be heirlooms. Some of the paintings/drawings are quite good, others are awful. But no one, including me, is marking them out of ten, so it doesn’t matter. I’m just having fun.
This morning, while trying to make some space on top of a wardrobe, I came across the kids’ box of Lego. Should it go into the attic? Maybe not. Wouldn’t I love to spend some time working out how to create a fantastic model? You bet ya. Will it matter if it’s rubbish? Nope.
Now I wonder if there’s enough to make a dragon.
Words and photo (c) Paula Harmon 2023, not to be used without the author’s express permission.