Of Grayskull and Gemstones: Girlhood revisited.
August 15, 2008
I am a child of the 80’s. Between my older sister and my brother’s hand me down’s [we’re all 4 yrs apart], I was privy to inherit quite a cache of stuff. Eventually, my dolls were given away to cousins in Guyana and others rounded up for donations when I went away for school in the US (the bitterness is still waning on that). So only my Paddington bear remains, salvaged and unearthed by my Mum one year, now ever a staple on my pillow. Naked, sans blue coat, time worn fur and all. Poor thing was almost chucked across the room by an errant young man, who grew to learn, that under no circumstances does anyone “disrespect the bear.” After all, he’s all I’ve got. But I do miss my dolls. While there was always a fondness for all things Fisher-Price and the “little people” line especially. I mean, their shit just took a beating and kept on ticking, that ferris wheel toy never once faltered on me–talk about expert craftsmanship. I still loved playing with dolls best.
Although my brother’s Millennium Falcon and talking Kit car interested me: I was still all about the dollies. All the dolls I owned, for the most part however, came fresh from out beneath a sharp-edged, plastic casing, because my sister had not been a huge fan of dolls. The only thing she ever contributed to the doll stash I so dearly loved, was a bright yellow Barbie brand rv, complete with a shower and roof top lounge deck. The stickered, faux design interior denoting where was the shower was and whatnot, was disintegrating and flaking by this time. I could idly scrape bits of them away with my finger nail if I wanted to. I always wondered how come no Barbies lived to tell the tale. Surely she had a Barbie rv with which to drive Barbies around in. I never did solve that mystery.
Years later, I thought about the coded “Barbie pink” color of all things Barbie, and all things girl-related for that matter, in the toy aisle of any major retailer, and thought that that old school Barbie rv must have been anomaly. Either that, or that was before the toy makers decided that all Barbie things must be swathed in the socially constructed color of girl-hood. And was I ever a huge fan of dolls! I especially loved all my black barbies, the soft, brown-skinned colored rag doll that my mum’s old friend had made for me in America, my Raggedy Ann which was the only white doll that my parents bought ever me (I grew up in an Afro-centric house), my cute Huggy Bean, down to my “life sized” sweet black baby doll and others. I would create alternate realities and voice extensive conversations and story lines between my dolls from day-to-day. I believe this all helped to facilitate the tremendous range of imagination and creative energy that I now possess. Or borderline psychoses. Whichever. Existing in–immersing in even–alternate realities might not be considered entirely healthy by some folk.
Mind you, I “played” with my barbies, acting out socially inscribed anxieties and fears and wishes, relishing in their plethora of storylines and outfits, until the age of 14; which was considered freakishly old by some people, to still be mucking about with dolls. I remember my Dad was particularly concerned, the summer that I turned 14, on a trip to the States, when I made it my business to get two more dolls. Barbie’s little sister Skipper (black Skipper that is), and Kelly. With a side-eye to a recent article I read about the adult and cult-like following of “dollfies” and “super dollfies,” there’s a part of me, with a cringing reluctance, that sees how that could possibly be kinda fun. Seriously.
With an exposure to feminism and feminist theories, later on, I know much can be said about the real problematic concerns about dolls like Barbie and her friends, and the images that they present, through that lens. For me then, it was always fun times though, of course, clearly oblivious to the cultural, social and gender implications therein. Lots of good times with the occasional bad doll haircut along the way. I was less concerned with what Barbie looked like or what her lifestyle afforded I think, than simply being able to create–my own world, with just me and them. Hairstyling and outfits were just an added bonus. Plus I never did own the dream house or corvette so I just made do with what I had.
I was never one of those girls who violently mutilated my barbies, no testing the life span of her waxy finished rubbery-ish legs for me–the knee could bend only so far after all. I could hear it pop under each undulation of my hand inside my head right now. It’s a peculiar sound that is. And certainly no snapping off the head of a Barbie to expose the ball joint in the neck, which for the record, is virtually impossible to get back in. Okay so maybe I did that once. Speaking of the marvelous extent of doll-play, I want to pay homage to Golden Girl and the Guardians of the Gemstones, for allowing the premise of action figures for young girls to take flight and for allowing us to participate. Along with She-Ra, they were kick ass women figurines (albeit pretty and appropriately coifed and made up) wielding weapons! And spunk and style and special powers and talents!
Still, I always wished they were a bit bigger though for some reason. But they are small in comparison to barbies and the like. Small enough to pit against, and take down a Darth Vader or a Storm Trooper. I came across this pic below of Onyx who was among the characters that I loved best and the first Golden Girl which I possessed. I later “inherited” a Catra from a friend–well technically borrowed, didn’t remind her and held on to. She had practically every doll in each line there was. Of course, the lone black character is the black stone, (logical right), embodying its very qualities almost: smooth like obsidian, black and fierce. A veritable warrior, cased in a baby pink outfit no less. She usurps the supposed girliness of the very color she wears; perhaps this is done to off set the fierceness and the blackness of it all. Black warrior, black stone.
These action dolls allowed girls to explore the multifarious identities of their girlhood. One minute combing doll hair, and adjusting cute dresses lovingly, the next, charging through a court yard, with someone’s mother’s bejeweled letter opener (which we actually did), triumphing that good will eclipse evil. Combined with the irreverence for traditional representations of girls’ fashion dolls, and the girly appropriateness of shiny, pretty things–Onyx and her friends reminded me that girl dolls can carry weapons, kick butt and stave off evildoers, which also reminds me, that so can I (no really, I can!). Anyway, I’m off to rouse up a band of females to conquer a villainous nemesis. Ok, not quite. But it’s a fun thought anyway.