April
21st 2009
Driving “Miss Barbie?”

Posted under: American history, childhood, Dolls, women's history

barbiemissbarbie4I treated you to Barbie’s Campus last month, courtesy of Found in Mom’s Basement (and thanks again to Erica at the good old days for the tip).  I returned there for inspiration last night, and found perhaps the strangest Barbie set I’ve ever seen (at right.  You can view an enlarged photo if you click here–”Miss Barbie” is right on top.)  What is up with this little number, also from the 1964 Sears catalog?  From the ad copy:

So lively. . . her knees bend, her eyes close

Miss Barbie with 3 Wigs, Lawn Swing and Planter, $4.89

Whose idea was it to sell the new bendable knees and blinking eyes Barbie by plopping her on lawn furniture and giving her a choice of 3 wigs?  Is this a scene that evokes youth, action, and vigor?  Are those her granddaughters she’s watching play tennis, dance, and ski, simultaneously?  (Those outfits are sold separately–don’t kid yourself.  “Miss Barbie” doesn’t swing that way.)  Why not a ”Plastic Slipcovers Barbie,” who comes complete with bingo cards and canasta for her Midge, Ken, and Allan?  What’s up with the hat–is she really bald under there?  I’m at the stage of life where a lawn swing and 3 wigs look pretty good–or at least more useful than the ballerina outfit–so I think it’s cool that they made a crypo-geriatric Barbie back in 1964.  I’m just wondering how many girls would have wanted to play with this Barbie set back in the day?  (The wigs would have been fun, but even more fun would have been just letting her go bald, don’t you think?)

And, what’s with calling her “Miss Barbie?”  I mean, we all know that Barbie has more than a little Miss Ann in her–but come on.  This is what I always thought was a major flaw in the singularly unappealing doll from the 1960s known as “Mrs. Beasley.”  Who wanted a doll who demands to be addressed by a common honorific title?

16 Comments »

16 Responses to “Driving “Miss Barbie?””

  1. Knitting Clio on 21 Apr 2009 at 7:44 am #

    Hey, don’t make fun of Mrs. B — she was my favorite doll and the only one I kept from childhood. Her looks are unconventional and so is her outfit. Her sound box no longer works, so like Buffy on “Family Affair” I have to pretend.

  2. Historiann on 21 Apr 2009 at 7:50 am #

    Sound box? I didn’t know she talked! (Maybe because Family Affair re-runs were the only place I encountered her?)

  3. squadratomagico on 21 Apr 2009 at 8:31 am #

    Clearly, given the fancy stage name and ,multiple wigs as accessories, this is all code for Drag Queen Barbie. I think she’d be fun to play with!

  4. Historiann on 21 Apr 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Squadrato–interesting analysis. I suppose that all Barbies everywhere are a drag queens, not just “Miss Barbie.” Her proportions and hyperfemininity are really those of a female female impersonator.

    But–the lawn swing? Maybe I don’t hang out in the right neighborhoods, but I’ve never run into a drag queen on a lawn swing.

  5. Erica on 21 Apr 2009 at 8:48 am #

    Those wigs are HILARIOUS. And yet somehow so Southern.

  6. Notorious Ph.D. on 21 Apr 2009 at 9:17 am #

    Forget Barbie: I totally wanted my own wigs when I was a little girl. 8, 9 years old. I wanted to buy a bunch of wigs so I could wear different hair every day.

    (Maybe I’m a drag queen at heart, too.)

  7. Historiann on 21 Apr 2009 at 9:26 am #

    Erica–Southern was my other guess as to “Miss Barbie’s” crypto-identity. The “Miss,” the wigs–it seems much more Southern than any other regional U.S. identity. And the lawn swing kind of fits with the region, too.

    So Notorious–maybe you’re just Southern? (Or all Southern women are female female impersonators? I think there’s something to that, actually, based on what friends of mine who have lived in Texas have told me–Houston, not Austin.)

  8. GayProf on 21 Apr 2009 at 9:57 am #

    Maybe it’s crypto-Jewish Barbie and the “wigs” are really sheitels?

  9. Mother of ALL on 21 Apr 2009 at 10:26 am #

    Apparently my mother never got the Sears catalog because I never saw these as kid of the sixties. Granted I was a senior in high school in ’64 but I still loved me some dolls. (Still have quite a few of them.) The accessories for Barbie must have come out much later than when I got my first Barbie as I remember just being thrilled at the “grown up” clothes for her.

    As to her going bald, I seem to remember some neighborhood girls who did really tragic things to our national semi-icon of feminity back in the 80′s. I remember Punk Barbie quite well.

  10. Brassai on 21 Apr 2009 at 11:08 am #

    Historiann–

    This is OT, but I was in moderation the last few times I commented, so I figure you can just zap it instead of having it go live.

    As you probably know, the Pulitzers were announced yeaterday. Women writers took home the awards for fiction, drama, and history. And in my area of knowledge–fiction–the two also-rans for the prize were books by women as well. In drama, the also-rans were by a woman and a man-woman playwriting team. Books by men were the also-rans for the history prize. Women writers were also the victors in the categories of public-service journalism, explanatory reporting, and feature writing.

    The full list of this year’s awards is here.

  11. Historiann on 21 Apr 2009 at 11:38 am #

    Thanks, Brassai–how many more Pulitzers like this year will it take until women writers achieve parity of representation in writing prizes? I’m guessing about 50, but I’m not holding my breath: patriarchal equilibrium and all that, you know.

  12. Bing McGhandi on 21 Apr 2009 at 12:51 pm #

    Ok, I’m totally butch, but I loooooove that lawn furniture. There is a scene in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the town MD is making a house call (those were the days…I hear) and they are camped out on just that piece of equipment! Don’t fall asleep, Barbie! The Bratz will take your soul!

    My favorite line from that movie? “I didn’t know
    the real meaning of fear… until I had kissed Becky.”

    Beautiful.

    HJ

  13. Historiann on 21 Apr 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    GayProf–I think the crypto-Jewish barbie could be the plastic slipcover Barbie, just throw in a Mah Jong set and take away Bingo. (Bingo is super-Catholic, at least in the Northeast.)

    Something else I’ve thought of is that maybe “Miss Barbie” is in fact a WASP Miss Ann–just put a G & T in her hand, accessorize with Goldfish Crackers, and throw in your Episcopalian minister costume for Ken, and she can entertain the Bishop on the Lawn Swing.

    Bing–the lawn swing is yours, but only after I’m done playing. OK?

  14. Sisyphus on 21 Apr 2009 at 4:24 pm #

    Ahhh, I love the snark — and the idea of wigs for either my doll or for myself. Or, of course, both!

  15. Historiann on 21 Apr 2009 at 4:58 pm #

    Sis (and you too, Notorious)–the wigs are in the mail to you! (As soon as I can figure out how to get a sawbuck and myself back in time to 1964 to order 2 “Miss Barbie” sets from Sears, that is.)

  16. exileinacademia on 21 Apr 2009 at 6:13 pm #

    I don’t know about the wigs, but the planter is what does it for me. They thought of everything!

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