How Barbie Taught Me To be A Feminist
Barbie’s Been Doing It For Herself Since The 1950s
My love of Barbies goes deep: The teenage characters in my novel Queen Of The Godforsaken turn to Barbies when they feel desperate to escape their cloistered yet isolated home life. The Barbie scenes were inspired by my own love of “playing Barbies.” I actually had an elaborate barbie bungalow, beside a beast of a furnace, in the depths of a dark basement in a historical farm house, like the character in my novel. No one played Barbies like my sisters and I. We created entire worlds that we eagerly entered on weekends and after school form the time I was very young (see above pic).
The 1970s were the hay day of my Barbie years. I played everyday with my sisters in our basement. We each built a unique Barbie house out of whatever worked: suitcases, boxes, carpet samples, bookshelves etc. Ken dolls were rare so our Barbies were mainly single Moms with children
Our Barbies ruled their own worlds. They were autonomous women and girls, living the life of our dreams. Building our Barbie house from scratch fuelled our creativity and taught us about architecture, engineering and design. My sister Theresa’s house had a working elevator—it was the envy of Barbie neighbourhood. I recall she used a string/pulley system to make it work. I remember using gift wrap from my new born sister’s baby gifts as wall paper in one of my Barbie houses. We made our own Barbie food out of salt-clay that we sculpted, baked and painted. We designed and built an airplane for Barbie to travel in, created hospitals and operating rooms where we preformed various surgeries or delivered Barbie babies; we sewed our own Barbie clothes, made Barbie bedding and furniture. Our Barbies were mothers, teachers, doctors, athletes, artists, designers, architects, engineers and world explorers. I remember stumbling into the basement one day to find my sister’s Barbies all bundled up, ready for winter. My Barbie tried to say hello to her neighbours but my sister rudely silenced me, “Get lost! We’re not here, you can’t see us! We’re in Nome, Alaska on vacation!”
My eldest daughters share my love of Babies. My eldest found me the greatest Barbie treasure this fall at a Value Village in Vancouver (where she attends university): a 1970s Barbie tent trailer set—exactly like the one I received for Christmas when I was six or seven years old. She brought it home to me and I was thrilled to find it still in its original box!
The box says everything I believe to be true about Barbies: Barbie is all about girl power, all about equality, independence and living courageously as an autonomous woman. The Barbie I grew up with takes herself on solo camping trips in the wilderness and has the time of her life! She drives herself to the remote spot in her very own sport dune buggy. There is no Ken in the picture, no one but Barbie enjoying her own company—fearless.
The Barbies of my youth have the classic Barbie body: big boobs, tiny waist and stand on tippy toes—a design carried from the 1950s that never bothered me as a girl except for the feet. I admit, I always wanted my Barbie to have regular feet; those tippy toes make it impossible for shoes to stay on her feet.
Barbies’s design is influenced by the culture she was created in; however, as our cultural ideals evolve, so does Barbie. Barbie now comes in every combination of skin colour/hair colour. I’m all for Barbie evolving to have a more athletic physique; however, as a child, my imagination was so inspired by the possibilities of what my Barbie could accomplish with her life that how she looked was of little importance to me. Barbie was simply a symbol of a woman who could live my future life dreams, in a world I created for her.
Barbie is one fearless chick who inspired me to be whatever I wanted to be. Barbie’s been doing it for herself since she was created—Ken was created to be her boyfriend/lover because trail blazing, independent, fearless women get lonely once in awhile and can use a little eye candy on occasion