Thursday, July 27, 2023

My Brief Journey Back to the World of Barbie


Like most women of my age, I saw the new Barbie Movie this week with intrigue. I grew up in the 60's as one of the first-generation Barbie owners.  I had the basic Barbie, a pink plastic wardrobe and many interchangeable outfits to fill it.  

The fun of Barbie was dressing and underdressing her in many chic outfits. Often, I would crochet miniskirts with my grandmother to expand her wardrobe.  This was a wonderful bonding activity I shared with her as a little girl.

By the time I was a close to preteen years I added a Ken to my collection.  My younger brother Max had a G.I. Joe but I thought Ken would be a more suitable soul mate.  I also had Skipper, Midge, and a dog. 

My Barbies mirrored the social norms of the late 60s with pretend dinners and dress up.  The role of Barbie didn’t go beyond that and was soon outgrown once I entered the real world of boy-girl parties and teen fun. 

As a teen I was exposed to the feminist movement and increased fights for women’s equality. We had real role models who fought and created the vision for our generation of equal status to men.  It is hard to believe that the Ivy league schools did not begin admitting women to their campuses until the late 60s and early 70s. Careers were starting to be defined by skills not stereotyped by gender.

My Barbies were stored in the attic for many years until I became a mom and had two daughters.  The generation of Barbie dolls became much more complex by the time I pulled them out in the late 1990s-2000s. By then there was a different Barbie for each activity and possible career. I often likened it to seeing a general practitioner doctor as a child vs. a specialist for each health care genre.

We would walk into Toys R Us or Kay Bee Toys overwhelmed by the selection and with limited budgets and buy the one that resonated most with activities my girls enjoyed. I wasn’t a big believer in buying a different doll for each activity although these were often received as birthday gifts. The doll did not take a major role in their childhood.   

While being raised in Dover my daughters ended up with the Equestrian Barbie, although they never wanted the Ken dolls or other major accessories.  Barbies appeared in their lives for a miniscule window of time.

My daughters were raised with the understanding that women had equal status in the workforce.  STEM programs were emerging and college admissions to top schools were a close tie for both genders. It wasn’t beyond imagination that women could become professionals and leaders in the workforce.  The women’s role was not defined by her body or domestic family roles. 

Fast forward to 2023 with the release of the new Barbie movie. Women’s rights have been turned back.  The right to choose is not legal in many states. The Supreme Court recently ended Affirmative Action. Many of the freedoms we celebrated at the birth of Barbie are being taken away from us with each Supreme Court session.  

Before seeing the movie, I saw an interesting interview with the Director, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins of a documentary Tiny Shoulders, Rethinking Barbie about the evolution of Barbie and Mattel. She suggested watching her documentary before seeing the movie.  Ruth Handler, Barbies inventor created Barbie to empower young girls to visualize identities beyond being just nurturers to others.  

I went to the movie last night with a group of friends.  We each wore pink to relive a “Barbie” moment.  Many of the women are part of an amazing group called Cape Cod Females over 50.  A year ago there were under 600 members and now there are close to 7000. Members come from across Massachusetts as well as the rest of the states.

When I saw the scene in the movie with Barbies everywhere I thought about the importance of female friendships. We are able to meet for coffee and social activities where we learn from each other and gain a wider appreciation for different perspectives due to the variety of our backgrounds.  Uniquely we embrace each opportunity to meet as an expansion of ourselves by sharing life experiences and commonality without judgement or predefined images.  We joke that we have our Cape Cod Barbie World.  

I enjoyed seeing Barbie and don’t want to give any spoiler alerts as it was both nostalgic and timely. Perhaps the biggest takeaway I got is the importance of the empowerment of women. Each of us provides a unique value to the world and by combining forces we gain from each others strengths. Perhaps now more than ever our voice is important to ensure the original vision created with the introduction of Barbie over 60 years ago.

Wendy is a Realtor and freelance writer residing on Cape Cod. She recently published her first book, Coffee Connections: Finding Common Ground Through My Daily Brew.  Wendy enjoys networking and writing to connect her ideas and curiosities with people she meets.   She welcomes your comments. 

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