Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical
hermionesviolin

I love cultural studies.

I read M. G. Lord’s Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll yesterday.

In Chapter Three, “Sex and the Single Doll,” she talks about Barbie being revolutionary because she is unapologetically happy and successful and single. I thought this was interesting. Barbie is also sexy, of course, and Lord discusses Gloria Steinem and the fact that “[p]erhaps it was difficult for a woman whose looks had opened doors to realize that there were problems to having them opened that way” (p. 54). And in Chapter Five she mentions the troubling implications of the 1967 trade-in (people could trade in old Barbies for a discount on the new Twist ‘N Turn Barbie), that not only, as Alvin Toffler said, are people’s “relationships with things increasingly temporal” (p. 88), but that it was women’s bodies that were being thrown away, implying that “[o]lder females should simply be chucked ... the way Jack Ryan discarded his older wives and mistresses” (p. 88).

In Chapter Four (“The White Goddess” -- who knew there were superhero Barbie dolls in 1979?), the author talks about how when she was eight, her mother had cancer and a mastectomy, and how that shaped her relationship to breasts. She talks about unearthing her childhood Barbies as an adult -- Ken, “wearing Barbie’s low-cut, sequined ‘Solo in the Spotlight’ ” (p. 67); Midge, “wearing what I would have worn for twenty years in storage—Ken’s khaki trousers, navy blazer, and dress shirt” (p. 67); and Barbie in a tiny tennis skirt under Ken’s sweatshirt. She writes: “Femaleness, in my eight-year-old cosmos, equaled disease; I disguised Midge in men’s clothes to protect her. If her breasts were invisible, maybe the disease would pass over them. Maybe she’d survive. I even shielded Barbie, permitting her to show her leg but armoring her chest. Only Ken was allowed the luxury of feminine display; he had no breasts to make him vulnerable” (p. 70).

an anecdote from Chapter Four (pp. 80-81):
Clever kids are unpredictable; they don’t cut their creativity to fit the fashions of Mattel. One girl who wanted to be a doctor didn’t demand a toy hospital; she turned Barbie’s hot pink kitchen into an operating room. Others made furniture—sometimes whole apartment complexes—out of Kleenex boxes and packing carton. And one summer afternoon in Amagansett, New York, I watched a girl and her older brother act out a fairy tale that fractured gender conventions. While hiking in the mountains, a croup of ineffectual Kens was abducted by an evil dragon who ate all but one. He remained trapped until a posse of half naked Barbies—knights in shining spandex—swaggered across the lawn and bludgeoned the dragon to death with their hairbrushes.
Chapter 7, “Paper Doll,” discusses the Barbie board game (“Queen of the Prom”) and the various Barbie books that came out in the early 1960s as well as the later incarnations of both. Interesting and disturbing.

In Chapter Nine (“My Fair Barbie”), the author talks to Ken Handler (son of Ruth Handler, the mother of Barbie):
When I suggested that these days Barbie has a fairly impressive résumé, he cut me off. “They’re not really careers—they’re putting on a costume and pretending. . . . It’s no different than some sort of drag show.” (p. 198)
From Chapter Eleven, “Our Barbies, Our Selves” (pp. 224-225):
Jan’s adoptive mother argued that the younger doll [Skipper, which she had gotten for Christmas while all her friends got Barbies] was close in age to Jan. But, Jan recalled, “It made me feel in playing with other girls that I didn’t have what it took. Because all I had was a Skipper, I could never really get into the whole dating thing. I could never have this rich fantasy life—meet a man, have romantic love. I was always relegated to being the little sister.”

Nor did Jan’s identification with Skipper end when she outgrew dolls. “I have never felt particularly pretty or attractive or sexually interesting. I have always thought that I was more like, not a little sister, but an androgynous person.”

...

“Barbie always looms,” Jan said. “That sort of ideal looms—and other women have it. Other women possessed these dolls; other women learned the secret. Maybe this is taking this Barbie thing too far, but I feel like other women had a certain kind of girl experience that I didn’t—that they understood something about being sort of seductive and perky that I didn’t get. I was always kind of a gal-along-for-the-ride, never feeling I could identify with the Marilyn-Jayne Mansfield-Barbie character.”

...

“You know what dolls my mother did give me?” Jan suddenly blurted. “Trolls! I never had a Barbie house but I had a troll house. I was thinking: Is this what she wants me to identify with—these horrible things with purple hair?”
We could talk about how it would be easy to put most of Jan’s words into my mouth. We could talk about how my mother wouldn’t let people buy me Barbies and was pissed when people bought me Barbie-knock-offs instead. We could talk about how i feel like i never signed up for that class on how to be a girl that everyone else took. We could talk about how i loved to read more than i loved to play with dolls, but that i really liked my troll dolls and in fact still have them. We could talk about how i don’t feel deprived having missed out on the indoctrination into girlyness. But we won’t.
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