I loved my pint-sized cardboard kitchen, complete with mini Kellogg’s corn flake boxes, tiny fake fruits and veggies, and the finest gold-trimmed plastic “company” china. Every Christmas during the mid-Sixties, I’d get a new appliance or some sort of a trendy upgrade till I had the swankiest basement playroom setup imaginable. The stove, refrigerator, sink and cabinets came with “some assembly required,” which meant that my dad spent most of his Christmas Eves piecing pink cardboard parts together, wondering why A wasn’t fitting into B, and wishing I’d wanted a fishing rod or other “boy toy.” Fortunately, he waited till I was much older to tell me how much he dreaded my mother dragging out another huge box that was “Joy’s big present this year” and handing him a screw driver and a rum-spiked eggnog. Back then, I just appreciated finding them all brand spanking new beside the tree on Christmas morning. And dreaming about the parties I’d host for the Beatles and all my other real and pretend friends.
When I wanted time out of the kitchen, there was always Barbie!
First there was old-fashioned Barbie, a mid-Sixties fashionista with a bubble hairdo, a wedding dress, bathing suit, pajamas, a few around town outfits, and a satiny emerald and sapphire prom gown I still dream about to this day. She was ceremoniously replaced when I was about ten with super cool modern Barbie, a Malibu beach babe with a flowing platinum mane, bendable legs, and a resting face that matched her sunny new outlook on life.
Barbie 2.0 had a bikini, a pink Corvette convertible, and the latest custom couture from my mother’s sewing machine. I missed out on newer age “diverse” Barbies, “role model” Barbies, and Barbies you bought brand new in a box because you needed to swap out their outfits and all their accessories every time they had a new hobby. I actually changed my Barbie’s look on-the-fly with what I had to work with. And sometimes she even went to the mountains from the beach without Bean boots or a backpack. But before I closed up her wardrobe case for the last time, I did end up with two Barbies (old and new), her BFF Midge, Ken, of course, and her little sister Skipper. There wasn’t an acronym for it at the time, but I now realize Midge was Barbie’s less-smart, less-attractive friend. She and old Barbie only got to wear new Barbie’s hand-me-downs so Ken wouldn’t be tempted to ask either of them to the prom.
I secretly played with Barbies longer than was deemed age appropriate, long enough to sufficiently warp my perception of evolving social norms and any hope of a healthy body image. Then, luckily, in middle school I found a doll that didn’t need any clothes. Or prom dates. Or anything except my groovy, far out imagination.
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