In 1961, my mother and sister and I were visiting my aunt and my three cousins; a son (a year younger than I) and two daughters, (each a few years older than I). The girls had just received their first Barbie dolls, all the available Barbie doll clothing, along with the Barbie doll carrying cases in which to store them. I was spellbound! I had never before seen such fabulous dolls in all my short little life (I was 7 years old).
I was familiar with the big "high-heel" fashion dolls of the '50s - they all had small busts, short arms, and big heads with children's faces. All the proportion distortions disturbed me. I much preferred those 8" little hard plastic dolls which also had small busts, short arms and big heads, but their petite size rendered these features less disturbing to me. Most important was that the faces were not at all childlike. In fact, they were rather "hard" in appearance, with the "sleep eye" feature, black plastic eyelashes, black eyebrows, and blood red "cupid's bow" lips resembling the 1920's silent screen stars. The hair was not rooted, but glued to the head in a finger-waved marcelled wad. The short little arms were strung with a rubber band, which also attached to the head for pivoting, but the legs were stiff, and molded in one piece with the torso like a kewpie doll. Sometimes, the feet were flat, and sometimes high-heeled, yet whichever of the two, always had the "shoes" molded onto the feet. Rather than actual garments, their clothing consisted of ribbons of various widths wrapped round and glued to the hard little bodies.
"I was familiar with the big 'high-heel' fashion dolls of the '50s - they all had small busts, short arms and big heads with children's face. All the proportion distortions disturbed me."
When the Barbie doll first debuted, I did not know about it. The first time I saw Barbie was that day in 1961. Barbie was everything wonderful that the little hard plastic dolls were not. Compared to the 8" dolls, her proportions were adult, with slender, elegant arms and legs. Her limbs were not strung. Her figure was curvaceous. Her hair was rooted. Her clothing & shoes were removable. Her face was gorgeous and not the least childlike. And above all, Barbie epitomized the glamour and sophistication that all the other dolls simply could not match. Granted, this concept of glamour and sophistication was that of a child, formulated from the imagery of the actresses in old Hollywood movies and the new teenage girl singing groups, all of whom appeared on television, feeding the impressionable vivid imagination of the little sissy boy who concocted his luscious fantasies for his own amusement and pleasure.
Barbie was supposed to be a teenage fashion model, but to most adults, she appeared to be a full-grown woman, and a rather provocative one at that. To my child's eyes, teenagers were already grown up, so I did not understand the difference, nor could I comprehend any basis for opposition to what was simply a "pretty lady". My mother was one of those who considered Barbie an inappropriate toy for a girl my sister's age, and despite her tearful pleas, told her that she could have one only when she was "older". But my aunt persuaded my mother (her younger sister) to sit on the sofa with her as my aunt showed us all the beautiful and beautifully made Barbie doll clothing, emphasizing the quality and modesty of each garment. She dressed and undressed and redressed the Barbie dolls of her daughters so that my mother could see what lovely toys these were for little girls to play "grown-up".
Well, my aunt convinced my mother that this was indeed a fine toy, and so for her 7th birthday, my sister received an ash blonde bubble-cut Barbie and an auburn flip Midge, a few outfits, and a doll case to house them. Then came Skipper and Scooter with several outfits for them. However, my mother would not allow my sister to have a Ken doll, because it had a "bump" for the genitals, and it just "wasn't right" for a little girl to have a boy doll with a "bump" in his pants. Of course, a boy doll for me was utterly out of the question. "What would your father say?" (Oh yes: the impatient, intolerant, former USMC drill sergeant, high-school football star, perpetually angry and resentful, son of coarse Russian peasant immigrants - oh yes...THAT father) HA! Eventually, I was able to have one GI Joe doll (oops! I mean "action figure") when (once again) my dear aunt came to the rescue and convinced my mother that she had gotten one for her very athletic and masculine son, one year younger than I. He also received two Johnny West cowboy dolls, two American Indian dolls, and two 1:6 scale horses for them to ride, and, she was confident to report that these boy dolls had no feminizing effects on him.
"Barbie was supposed to be a teenage fashion model, but to most adults, she appeared to be a full-grown woman, and a rather provocative one at that."
...to be continued...
Viktor Zavadsky: "I am an aging Baby Boomer, unrepentant old hippie, post-Stonewall survivor of the Sensational Seventies. My dolls are 3-dimensional representations of my obsessions, fantasies, and aspirations unfulfilled. They comprise a miniature theater that I can visit and control whenever I choose, providing essential therapy for a host of maladies."