5 Things I learned from “Barbie”

I confess. I went to the “Barbie” movie. Don’t judge me. Fortunately, I have a seven-year-old granddaughter, so I had a legitimate excuse. The movie was not what I expected. To borrow an old term, it was pretty dorky and I am glad I had lots of popcorn to get me through it. But it was one of those movies that had me thinking about it a lot after I watched it. I know a movie made an impact on me when it does that. I appreciated the obvious message of patriarchy, but it was more than that. I also enjoyed the bits of humor sprinkled in it. Such as, when Barbie enters the real world, and her feet go flat and she sees cellulite for the first time. Welcome to the real-world Barbie! More importantly, I think the movie brought to the surface all of my years of playing with Barbie dolls. It caused me to reflect on what impact those play experiences had on me. Did playing with Barbie dolls have the adverse effects on me that society claims?

I feel like Barbie dolls have gotten a bad rap in the last couple decades. I fully understand the concern of this perfect doll giving girls an unrealistic body image and that it encourages sexism. I get it. Yet, that was not my experience. As a child, I never really enjoyed playing with baby dolls but I loooooved playing with Barbie dolls, and I don’t feel like it damaged my self-esteem. Matter of fact, I learned quite a bit from my years playing with Barbie dolls.

5 Things I Learned From Playing With Barbies

I learned about the life I wanted to live.

My Barbies had a world of their own and it could change at my very whim. They would have friends, families and boyfriends (thank you Ken). I would make up stories about the different lives they would lead. Perhaps one time they would be part of a big family. Another time it would be a group of friends without kids around (sorry Skipper). They were doctors, teachers, businesswomen, and/or mothers and they played out these roles. My Barbies loved being outdoors and would often go on little camping trips next to a creek. (I can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t foretelling of my current desire to be out in nature.) When I was going through my horse phase, I saved up and got a play horse for them to ride. I tried out different lives through the safety of play.

I learned financial & negotiation skills.

My parents were building their own business when I was growing up. They provided a wonderful, loving, secure home life but there was not a lot of discretionary income during my grade school years. I had to make the most of what I had, so I would save up to buy a new doll. I distinctly remember one time when I saved several weeks allowance and money from returning pop bottles to buy a new Barbie. Once I thought I had enough money, I coaxed my mom into taking me shopping.

I skipped into the store, excited to see all of the wonderful options. However, my heart dropped when we reached the toy aisle and realized that I did not have enough money for any of the Barbie dolls. Then I discovered a Barbie doll with dirt smudges and messed up hair that had been ripped from her box and was laying on the shelf. I gingerly asked my mom if she thought they would take less for this doll since she was out of her box and a little soiled. My wise mom, said, “well why don’t you ask?” I was a shy child so this was way outside my comfort zone. But I really wanted that doll so I gathered up my courage and asked the clerk if they would take the exact amount of money I had for the doll. Of course, she had to bring the manager over to decide. He was a big, burly, intimidating man that saw a fearful little girl who was willing to take a risk. He graciously accepted my offer, and I went home with a lovely new doll that just needed her hair combed and a little cleaning. Thank you kind sir, wherever you are, for negotiating with this shy little girl. You made my day and taught me a lesson about saving money, taking a risk and negotiating for something that you really want.

I learned socialization and collaboration skills.

Playing with Barbies was all about relationships and socialization. They would have conversations and sometimes they would have disagreements. When I would have a friend over to play Barbies, we would have to figure out how we were going to play that day, without really planning it ahead of time. Often it would evolve, much as real life does. Our dolls would have to socialize with each other. Sometimes my friend’s dolls would do something I did not like, and I imagine mine made her mad too. We had to work it out and move towards a common ground in how we would play. We were practicing the adult art of socialization and compromise through our dolls.

I learned forgiveness and sharing.

Over the years I developed a nice collection of Barbie dolls. I had a very good friend who loved to play with Barbies as much as I did. We would haul our dolls and their cloths closets back and forth to each other’s houses. She grew up in a single parent household and I imagine money was pretty tight. One day, she was over to my house to play. A few days after she went home, I noticed that a couple of my dolls were missing. I looked everywhere but could not find them. The next time I was at her house, the dolls were there. She thought they must have got mixed in with hers and she accidentally took them home. I was hurt that she did not tell me. It took a little time for me to realize that she did not have as many dolls as I did and just wanted some different ones to play with for a little while. It taught me about forgiveness and the importance of sharing with others.

I learned the joy of creating something yourself.

Most girls remember the Barbie suitcase that was also a closet. A delightful place to store the doll and her wardrobe. Well, those closets had to be filled. I did not buy the expensive Barbies that came with the beautiful, glittery evening gowns, so I had to get creative and make some of my own doll cloths. My mom gave me an old white slip that she did not use anymore. I happily cut it up, making one arm hole while drawing the fabric under the other arm and then tying the waist with a colorful ribbon to create a beautiful, at least in my childlike imagination, evening gown. I was content.

There were big, lovely pre-made Barbie houses. I even got a small one for Christmas one year. It was in a case that opened up to reveal a pink (of course) bedroom and living room. I loved it, but not as much as the houses I made myself. I would use cardboard boxes to create rooms. Windows were drawn on the walls with crayons and discarded pieces of fabric became curtains and blankets. I filled it with wood and cardboard furniture that I made. Outdoors, we had a corner of the yard, under a small pine tree. It was the perfect spot to build a log cabin for Barbie from broken tree branches. I learned the satisfaction of making something yourself.


Critics feel like the movie was an attempt by Matell to make Barbie popular again and thus increase their profits. So what if they did? They would not be the first company to do that. I tend to be a Polly Anna, but I took the best from the film and left the rest for the critics to battle out. I felt like the moral of the movie was that men and women can collaborate and work together to create a better society. I think that is a much better moral than most movies have. But the best part of watching the movie was that it brought back fond memories of being young and dreaming up my own world that my dolls played out. A world where I could practice being an adult and try out different lives, without the severe consequences of making mistakes as an adult.

On the Home Front

I am so blessed to be able to call this amazing lady my sister.

Sunday was National Sisters Day. I am so thankful to have a wonderful sister. She is kind, generous, creative, talented and fun. She is my bestie, my confidante and my partner in crime. She overlooks my faults and sees my heart. She shares my childhood memories. My sister is a few years older than I am, so she was well past playing with dolls while I was still in my prime. I would constantly beg her to play Barbies with me and was thrilled when she gave in. We still laugh about that.

Kayaking the channel between lower and upper Priest Lake with Mr. U, my sister & brother-in-law.

Last week Mr. U and I celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary. Yikes! How does 43 years go so fast? Forever grateful to have lived it with this wonderful man. We spent the day kayaking and then went to dinner at Elkins Resort on Priest Lake. Life has turned out better than I ever imagined. And maybe, just maybe, in some small part, it was because I had lots of practice with my dolls first.