Where Have All The Barbies Gone?

October 2, 2008 at 6:09 pm (2008)

Note: This post is part one of a possible series meant as a fun distraction as I reminisce the toys of my childhood and lament the decline of quality products. Or, you know, try really hard to fight the urge to completely regress and unpack my toys from storage.

A couple of months ago, I posed the question: “Whatever Happened To Barbie,” but after recently visiting the Toys ‘R Us aisle and seeing the lack of hot pink boxes on the shelves, I have to ask the question again: where have all the Barbies gone?

Every age group has their toy, one that marked a generation — Ginny dolls, Matchbox cars, My Little Pony and Care Bears, Voltron and Transformers — but listed among them for so many decades, and possibly the most prevalent, was Barbie.

Barbie changed the way little girls played beginning in the early 1960s, where, according to Mattel’s narrative, girls began imagining themselves as grownups. Interesting, considering this blog’s overarching theme.

I grew up on old-school Barbie — way before she dumped Ken and was the world’s foremost entrepreneur, when this was considered great marketing:

Oh, yes. Like all other little girls, I would scramble to put that on my birthday or Christmas list.

When you get older, birthdays take on more of a sentimental value — last week, the best gift I could have asked for was spending the day with my mom. But when you’re young, birthdays mean one thing: presents. And for me, presents meant Barbies. My grandparents spoiled us by taking each child out to lunch and then allowing us to fill our shopping cart with toys (to a degree, of course). The one rule was that we had to select a toy to bring home for our siblings (which is probably what instilled in me my need to take care of others before myself). I remember spending hours with my grandma in the Barbie aisles, probably to my grandfather’s horror, careful and deliberate in my selection. In short, this was me:

Row after row of pink boxes with the latest sets begged to be examined — pictures of living rooms, kitchens, and campers boasted intricate details and promised hours of fun. And there were so many packages of clothes sold separately that you could rest assured that Barbie and her friends never went out of style.

When I wasn’t spending my time trading clothes with friends, I could be found in the basement, rearranging the three sections of my Barbie Dream House every which way I could think of. Like Barbie, in my own little world I had a range of titles: I was a stylist, architect, interior decorator, beautician (much to my Mom’s horror when I decided Barbie needed bangs), and storyteller. I would spend hours setting up the rooms in her house, enthralled by those little details (turkey in the oven, book on the bedside table) that it actually makes me wonder if my own attention to detail in writing stems from this fascination as a kid. Mom used to say that I was always so quiet when I played that she had to check on me, but I was only playing, happy as a lark, lost in this world I created and acting out the stories in my head, my imagination soaring.

Looking back, I can see how the way I played has influenced my personality (or perhaps it’s the other way around?) — I love architecture and design, and storytelling is still especially personal to me. Without a doubt, Barbie played a large part in expanding my imagination, and it’s something I will pass down to my own children.

Only, will Barbie still exist then or be as prevalent? Last week I convinced my Mom to stop at Toys ‘R Us with me on my birthday for nostalgic purposes. I was curious to see how much had changed; how much my own perspective had changed as an adult. Would a silly doll still mean as much to me now that I had outgrown them?

Yes, as it turned out. As we walked to the doll section, I was horrified to see that there was barely half an aisle of Barbie merchandise. Seeing my beloved section taken over by this:

and this:

and, for the love of all that is good in this world, this:

was a wake up call.

Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Wendy, we’ve gone and grown up.

Times have changed, indeed, and a sure-sign that you’re getting older is when a staple of your youth, and of so many past generations, is no longer dominant in a toy store.

Your time has passed; it’s the end of an era, the sign of the times.

And for you guys out there, this is your new action hero:

Don’t tell my brothers.

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1 Comment

  1. defygravity84 said,

    I am completely, and utterly disgusted by toys for girls these days. Those Bratz dolls are the worst creation ever! Oh, and not to mention that everything has to light up, make a sound, spin around, and make you toast, it’s ridiculous. What happened to go old Lincoln Logs or Legos? Geez, in MY day, we actually used our imagination and brain power to make our toys cool!

    Great post. Keep sharing please!

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