I got all of my old Barbie dolls back from my dad’s attic the other day. As I sifted through the pile, I did find some broken parts and dry rotted clothing, but most of my Barbies and their accessories, much to my surprise, were still usable.
Like a nightmare from a Toy Story universe, many of them had ratted hair and casts made from masking tape. It’s as though, mid-play, I suddenly grew up and put them away.
Barbies were my favorite toys. Technically, I don’t approve of Barbie dolls with their too small waists and their gargantuan stature that can’t be heart healthy at all. At the very least, Barbie certainly doesn’t have enough body fat to have a normal menstrual cycle or be very fertile.
But as I sorted the clothes out, I instinctively dressed one of the Barbie dolls, not even meaning to. I held her up and noticed just how bad her hair was, so I brushed it with a little mini lavender doll brush. I groomed her out of second nature, not even realizing I was doing it. Then I glanced up at my cousin’s daughter and my daughter, both had wanted to help me figure out what to take home and what to leave in my parents’ trash.
Both girls were dressing Barbies that they had found. My daughter was trying to put a boot on Barbie’s inhumanly long legs. Then, I noticed, none of us had even said a word in about ten minutes.
At first, I thought the reason so many girls find Barbie irresistible is out of some kind of self torture. But then, I thought about it, and I didn’t feel bad about myself when I played with a Barbie doll. I felt “out of myself.”
Girls are usually very social, so why, weren’t any of us talking?
When I would play Barbie with my friends as a child, I realized, it mirrored the quiet play that I was experiencing with my little cousin and my daughter.
Contrary to what the commercials would lead you to believe, most of the time Barbie wasn’t about “roll playing” and pretend play. It was usually about the preparation. We would get our dolls dressed and redressed dozens of times, then get called away for lunch. So, we never actually got around to the playing. We would set up scenes and chairs and positions for them to be sitting in when we would eventually play. But, the actual playing almost never came.
I think Barbie satisfies some kind of grooming instinct in little girls preparing us for when we will eventually groom ourselves as young women.
Male young animals often wrestle because they enjoy it. They do it instinctively. They don’t even realize that they will use those skills learned through playing to fight off competition in mating season when they are matured.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m over analyzing it.
I will say this though, if the attraction to Barbies has always been to appease a natural grooming instinct that will be used later, everyone better keep their little girls as far away from those trashy little Bratz dolls as possible.