No to Bride Barbie — Yes to a Real-Life Wedding

At age 7, Christina preferred a tug of war to playing with her Bride Barbie. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Christina left her Bride Barbie at home to join a tug of war. Photo by Barbara Newhall

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 Newhall in her soccer uniform, 1989, at age 7. No Bride Barbie for her. Barbara Newhall photo

Christina Newhall — no Bride Barbie for her. SF Sport photo.

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.

“Oh?”

“Mr. Heart’s head comes off and Barbie’s doesn’t.”

“Oh.”

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.

“Hmmm. Pretty.”

“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.”

More than Bride Barbie, Christina loved the Nintendo character Link with sword and shield, 1992 instruction booklet illustration. Nintendo image.

Christina spent less time with Bride Barbie than the Nintendo character Link, here in the 1992 instruction booklet. Nintendo image.

Share

Comments

  1. All kids are different and gravitate toward their true desires no matter what we do. After two boys, we had a girl. We had all trucks, dinosaurs and boy LEGO. Somehow she discovered Barbies, dress up gowns and jewelry and has been a princess all of her 4 years. She is very confident and loves to be girly. But, she also sits down and builds LEGO cities with her brothers and battles Pokémon…usually in a giant blue Cinderella dress.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Michelle, I love the vision of your daughter doing battle in her pretty dress. And it’s so true how children “gravitate toward their true desires.” My children are now 32 and pushing 30 — and it amazes me how distinctive their choices are. Christina is right now spending the weekend at ComiCon, for example. Something I never would have thought to do myself.

  2. Linda Spencer says:

    I had a large number of Barbie dolls as a child. I inheritied some from my older sister when she outgrew them. I received additional dolls as Christmas and birthday gifts. It never occured to me to view Barbie as a role model for what I should look like. Part of my play included other dolls that would join in with Barbie – dolls that my grandmother had purchased during her world travels. These dolls came in many shapes, colors, and clothing. They blended in with Barbie’s surreal figure seamlessly in my mind.

    After I moved on from Barbie dolls, I was a serious athlete in junior high and high school. I went on to become a geologist, swinging a rock hammer and drilling wells alongside of my male colleagues. I never wore make-up or dresses.

    Barbie was pure fantasy, like teddy bears and paper dolls. I loved this time of my life and have many fond memories of endless hours playing with dolls with my girlfriends.

    • Linda, Maybe the take-home message for me here is: Worry less, enjoy more. The last time I looked, one entire side of an aisle at Toys ‘R Us was devoted to Barbie paraphernalia. Barbie has survived — thrived — for 50 years. She must be doing something right. Barbara

Trackbacks

  1. […] If you enjoyed this post, you might like “My Upper Lip and Other Sorrows.”  Also, “How Do You Play With A Barbie Doll?” […]

  2. […] “How the Selective Service Made a Man of My Son — Without Even Trying.”  Also,  “How to Play With a Barbie Doll.”  You can also find my posts on Patheos.com and […]

Leave a Comment

*