A browse through the Barbie aisle today left me with the usual disappointed feeling. Collectible Barbies are beautiful and have incredibly detailed clothes but they cost an arm and a leg and I can’t afford to buy them. Besides I like to take them out of their boxes, change their clothes and photograph them in different outfits and settings. (OK I like to play with them) I would feel very guilty doing that to a doll that had cost a lot of money.
Instead, I have bought playline dolls, not too expensive and often just as pretty. Until now that is. It’s not just that most of the dolls seem to be fairies, princesses or pop stars. I understand that little girls like those. It isn’t even that most of the clothes and accessories they produce for them are pink and glittery; or even that they often come with painted limbs instead of clothing. What I really dislike is their bland expressions; nearly every doll is like this. The hairstyles and makeup may change but the doll has no personality. I also feel the quality of the dolls is not as good; they are lightweight and their clothes look cheap and trampy.
Some years ago Mattel made a series of dolls called “Fashion Fever” Barbie. There were several dolls in each issue and they looked different from each other. They had lots of clothes including a lot of mix and match items which made them a lot of fun to redress. I have quite a few of these Barbies in my collection and I think that they are probably some of the nicest ones that have been made as play dolls.
After they stopped appearing Barbie collecting became rather boring for me for a while. Then the Basics series of dolls came out and I got excited again. For the first time in a long time, I was desperate to get a doll. These dolls were more elegant looking and seemed halfway between a play doll and a collectible, exactly right for someone like me.
Now they too have stopped and the Barbie aisle is a bleak place once again. I keep going there in hopes of seeing something special and new but I never do.
I can’t help wondering why this has happened. It seems that Barbie is being marketed to younger children now but don’t younger children like realism and variety too? Don’t Mattel and other doll manufacturers think it worthwhile to make good quality dolls for them? Are we dumbing down dolls too much I wonder, lowering our expectations of what young children can manage?
I am sure that today’s little girls love their dolls as much as I loved mine but don’t they deserve better ones than they are getting? I think they do.