My little sister and I have always shared the common joy of getting more dolls to add to our collection which both grew and shrunk. We named them, made their clothes, and made sure that they were where they belonged when we were ready to put them back in their designated sitting space. Each doll has a different personality, each of which is their own. The dolls aren’t a supernatural being that changed my life, but a distraction, that kept my mind off of stressful worries which make up most of life.
I didn’t realize how strong the power of imagination was until I had experienced it for myself. My Barbie dolls had allowed me to meet that concept. Ever since I was a little girl, my dolls have always been my escape. They separated me from the rest of the world, and left me with a feeling of hopefulness. When I felt alone and afraid, or worried and contained, Barbie was who restored my sanity. It almost seems unreal, how such a regular, everyday object, can have such an impact on someone.
While playing with my dolls as eight, nine, or ten years old, being like Barbie, or trying to look like her, never crossed my mind. But now, that’s not necessarily the case. Almost every teen girl struggles with body image. When I sat down to play with my dolls, it was as if I gave life to a lifeless figure, that’s so very often misconstrued. She has never asked to be ‘perfect’, just to be accepted.
In the forgotten corner of my bedroom closet, a plastic container hides, which contains all 30-plus Barbie dolls. Along with it, somewhere hidden in my desk drawer lays an index of names which holds each dolls identity. On the bottom of every doll, there’s a number, written on the bottom of their foot. But I’ve grown to realize that numbers aren’t identities. It makes me sad to think that being packaged is being perfect. I don’t I don’t play with my dolls as much anymore, but once in a while, I like to visit them. The nostalgic scent of flat iron-burnt hair brings back memories of when I was going through that “flat-iron your dolls’ hair to make their hair look straight when it was factory-made to be curly” phase, if that’s a thing.
I remember sitting on my mom’s warm, cream-colored comforter sewing clothes for my naked dolls. My sister and I were cutting fabric to make fancy dresses. The clothes that came with the dolls, where so tiny, they’d get lost over time. The clothing was so tight, I felt bad for them and I’d make new clothes. I wasn’t satisfied with the way that they looked. So I’d try and change them. Over time, some were lost, some became garbage and others didn’t survive my childhood phase of being different. Meaning, I’d chop their hair off so they’d look like boys but quickly became frustrated once I realized that not all boys wore makeup, or had a large bust. I called them, different, not ordinary, perfectly okay with me.
I thought I had found the perfect doll for my experiment, the Hannah Montana ‘Best of Both Worlds Doll’ that I got for Christmas one year. She was very expensive but I didn’t know that until afterwards. In the front, her hair was blond, which was the pop star side of Miley, the Hannah Montana. In the back, was her brown curly hair, typical Malibu hair-do. Her brown hair surprisingly never stayed down no matter what I tried to do. It stuck up in the air because of Hannah’s pin-straight blond hair holding its shape never wanting to lose the ‘spot light’. I was irritated and cut it up. Ironically, I cut her hair into a buzz cut looking shape, amazingly similar to the hairstyle that sits on Miley Cyrus’ head today, in hopes of making her look like a boy. Since her chest wasn’t made as big the regular Barbie doll, I thought it would be less of a challenge to make her into a boy. So I whipped up a paste which included; a whole bunch of flour, several cups of water, and a huge mess. I thought it could be used to make a mold that would flatten her torso, but fatten her stomach- it didn’t work; I just got into a lot of trouble. I made them into boys so we could have boy dolls. There was only one boy in my vast collection of dolls. I didn’t think it was fair that there weren’t any boys there. But, I did want them to look the way they did. I wanted them to be real women. I must’ve known that real women don’t look like Barbie dolls. I must’ve intuitively known that she’s not the way that real women look.
As a child, I did a lot of damage to my dolls, both physically and mentally, in a way. I’d change the way that these pretty and ‘perfect’ dolls looked. I’d flat-iron their blonde curly hair, and fatten them up. The only dolls that I could find were white with curly and silky blonde hair. On their skin, I’d paint it all different colors with my nail polish. I didn’t see it as a way of making them multi-cultural at the time. What I liked to do was make up skits with my sister. We’d act them out with the dolls, even though I got really tired of playing with them. They always had real-world issues, things that regular people experienced every day.