I am Barbie, hear me roar!

I am an American woman – not a baby boomer, not a Gen Xer -- I am of the Playskool generation. I learned long ago I am of the generation that began to play with mass produced, mass marketed toys designed to teach and encourage packaged imagination. I remember one of my top five toys as a child was my Playskool Schoolhouse. I always found it odd they chose to misspell "skool" in a series of learning toys.  It came with magnetic alphabet letters and a pop out metallic roof. I loved it!

Not only was Playskool one of the first to mass produce “learning toys”, it was apparently also the beginning of little fish being acquired by big fish business philosophy. Playskool was started way back in the 1920s. In the 1970s it partnered with Milton Bradley but retained its name. In the 1980s Hasbro swooped in and bought them all. I wonder if they, meaning PlayBradBro Company, also designed Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street as part of their cross marketing conglomerate. The purist in me wants to believe that PBS is and always will be run without fancy business plans and hype. Don't mess with Big Bird!

It makes me really wonder if all the buying, merging, and acquiring was also the start of the decline in quality. You know what I mean. Board games became more expensive; however, came completely unassembled and made out of flimsy cardboard instead of plastic. A bit like a Lean Cuisine – looks yummy on the box, but is something completely different and definitely lame once you open it up.

I digress. The 70s was a magical time to be a kid. Toy after toy was advertised on Saturday morning cartoons. Oh, and the cereals! Sugar was still like nicotine – pleasurable with no harmful side effects. That was when CornPops were still SugarPops! That was also the time when I received the holy grail of girl toys – the Barbie Dream house. It was constructed completely of thin plastic and cardboard. It stood an amazing three stories tall – complete with elevator, bathroom and bedroom. AND, almost entirely pink! I think Barbie has gotten a bad rap. Yes, she is blonde, buxom, and has permanently pointed toes to accommodate stiletto heels (even to the beach), but I remember hours of playtime spent with my girlfriends dressing, redressing, styling hair, and changing teeny, tiny shoes. It was amazing. I also remember staging elaborate dates with Ken, complete with plastic doll kissing marathons. News alert: This is how little girls play!

Barbie has been passed on to the next several generations. I have two daughters – one who could care less about doll play and another who lives and breathes all things Barbie, American Girl, and Polly Pockets. She is her very own target market and really should be paid as a key focus group member! She loves her Barbies so much she asked to bring Malibu Barbie to the pool last year. Where else should Malibu Barbie go? Of course, but I told her to keep an eye on the doll since we’ve lost many a pool toy to the sticky fingers of unsupervised children.

Whistle blow! Adult swim! Everyone out! My daughter runs over to me and screams, “Barbie is gone!” Tears flow down her cheeks followed by frantic screams and arm flailing! BARBIE IS MISSING! Oh crap I think to myself as I instruct her big brother and sister to walk around the pool and see if they can find the doll – or a child playing with the doll. Then, this seemingly straight forward story takes a turn. Big brother return with a plastic limb!

Oh shit! I respond in only a way that the unconventional mom in me can, “kids, a crime has taken place today!”

They jump back in the pool and start searching for doll parts. Arm number two appears, then a leg, another leg. Oh the horror! All the while my sweet, girly girl sobs on the pool deck. The final blow comes as my older daughter comes out of the pool holding a mess of golden blonde hair attached to a head with no body. Barbie has been decapitated!! Where is her torso? The search continues for hours. We continue to giggle (of course behind the watchful eye of the sobbing 6 year old). “We need CSI!”

Ultimately the crime went unsolved. The torso never turned up. We suspected a menacing looking group of fifth grade boys, but there are no finger prints in the water. As sad as that day was, I always look back at the amount of creativity that went into the detective work of my big kids. I wonder if Hasbro would ever consider a CSI Barbie that comes ready to dis-member?  I know they have released French Maid Barbie, Lingerie Barbie, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Bird’s Barbie (that’s my favorite), Computer Geek Barbie (but they call her Engineering Barbie), and Plastic Surgery Barbie (who comes flat chested). Ok, I made that last one up. Most of these are totally inappropriate for my daughter, but they sure make me laugh.

I’m currently looking for a part time job, maybe Hasbro is hiring??

Lori Werhane


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