MY DAUGHTER CHRISTINA will be marrying in May. She’s a grown-up woman now, making plans to spend her days with a truly good man. People who knew Christina as a little kid might be surprised to hear that there will be an actual wedding, complete with the traditional white wedding gown, champagne, music, flowers, moonlight and a multi-tiered wedding cake.
As a girl Christina wasn’t much for dressing up — neither herself nor her Barbie Doll. Girly stuff bored my daughter. She preferred playing Nintendo with her big brother and his guy friends. Nonetheless, when May rolls around Christina will be letting loose with her inner romantic: friends, family and groom will be treated to a sweet, old-fashioned wedding and a — beautiful — bride.
Some things haven’t changed, however. Christina still likes computer games. And so does her husband-to-be.
Here’s a story I once wrote about the seven-year-old Christina and her dollies.
By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, December 9, 1990
Christina has dolls. She has rag dolls, baby dolls and super heroine dolls. She also has a squad of Barbie dolls. A Hawaii Barbie. A bride Barbie. And a Barbie with a luscious ball gown that transforms into a thigh-high sexpot of a skirt — with just a flick of a 7-year-old finger.
Christina has dolls, but for reasons I don’t understand, Christina does not play with dolls. Mostly, her dolls sit at attention on her bookcases and lie heaped in baskets on her shelves.
Christina’s idea of a good time is counting up her Halloween candy on Halloween night and making a bar graph of the totals — one Milky Way, three Snickers, seven Baby Ruths.
That done, she might count the licks it takes to get to the chewy part of a Tootsie Pop (just under 2,000).
This worries me. Shouldn’t Christina lighten up a bit? How is she to relate to other little girls if she’d rather design a bar graph than throw a tea party?
No Pouty Lips. No Bride Barbie Fantasies
Most of the time, Christina’s indifference to her dolls pleases me more than it worries me. This is a liberated woman I am rearing, apparently. No sex stereotypes here. No glitzy, showy sexuality. No pouty lipsticked lips. No top-heavy 38-22-32 torso.
Christina does not covet the Barbie bathtub or the Barbie brass bed with the comforter. She doesn’t even long for a Ken doll to call her own.
And I’m glad. I’m glad that Christina seems to have a mind of her own. On the other hand, I’d also like her to fit in, to have friends. I’d like her to feel at ease in a crowd. I’d like her to be one of the girls.
So, I let her have all the necessary girl stuff, just in case. The My Little Ponies. The She-Ra doll. The make-up case. The doll whose hair grows when you crank her arm. The play kitchen.
I was encouraged to find Christina in the den recently, her basket of fashion dolls emptied onto the floor.
“There’s a difference between a Barbie Doll and a Mr. Heart doll,” she announced.
“Mr. Heart’s head comes off and Barbie’s doesn’t.”
Boy Paraphernalia, Girl Paraphernalia
Mind you, I don’t want to adopt a male standard here. Just because baseball bats and dump trucks are boy paraphernalia doesn’t mean that they are superior in any way to girl paraphernalia.
But that is precisely what bothers me about so much girl stuff. It is so boy-conscious. The 38-22-24 Barbie figure, the mass of bleached-out hair, the pierced ears, the pretend wedding cake — all are things that relate to attracting and marrying a man.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to make a man happy, obviously. An adult woman ought to be beautiful and sexual.
But it does worry me to see a little girl evaluating herself, not on her own terms, but on someone else’s terms. On what she presumes are that someone else’s terms.
(How many men, I wonder, are truly attracted to a woman with legs like jousting lances and hair like furnace duct insulation?)
Meanwhile, Christina’s dolls sit there in their baskets until another little girl comes over to play — and usually it is a perfectly nice little girl who is the daughter of a perfectly nice woman — and wants to know, “Where are your dollies?”
Obligingly, Christina will lead her would-be friend to the doll basket where Barbie and Mr. Heart and Cinderella lie together, shoeless and half-clothed, pointy legs and frothy nylon hair shamelessly entangled.
But Christina’s heart isn’t in it. Soon, she is downstairs playing Nintendo with her brother, and her little visitor is left to make her way through the doll basket alone.
I worry. This is my fault. My daughter doesn’t know how to play with girls. I have been neglecting the little girl sub-culture. I have been letting Peter and his baseball cards and Jon and his Monday night football set the tone in our household.
Perhaps I should have played more Barbie with Christina when she was little. Perhaps I should be signing her up for pre-ballet this spring instead of tee-ball.
Barbie Doll Lessons
It was time to give Christina Barbie lessons, I decided. We would get out the fashion dolls and, by golly, we would play with them.
We started with the ball-gown Barbie. “This can be a train or it can be a ball gown,” Christina explained, deftly adjusting the long, ruffled skirt.
“And this is a sleeve,” she went on, stretching a gossamer ruffle around Barbie’s shoulders.
We admired the doll together. It was pretty. It was clever.
But, that done, we just sat there. Christina didn’t know what to do next. And neither did I.
© 1990 The Oakland Tribune. Reprinted by permission.
Christina, now in her thirties, knows how to wield a make-up brush and pull on a pair of sexy jeans. She tells me that, while I found Barbie dolls sexist, she found them boring. “I liked to make up stories in my head,” she says. “And there are only so many stories you can make up about a girl in a ballgown.”
More Christina stories at “Wedding Dress Shopping — When Your Daughter Lets You Tag Along.” More about that Nintendo at “Nintendo Mom — The Day I Unplugged My Eight-Year-Old.”