My Life with Barbie

Valerie and Barbie's Hot Rod - 1963

Without apology, Barbie has been my friend for 50 years.  I wish I could say we are growing old together, but because of her magical plastic life, my BFF has shown no sign of aging.

A Wikipedia search today told me Barbie’s full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts.  All these years, and I thought it was just “Barbie.”   I don’t know her parent’s names, religious faith, or credit score.

I don’t care.

Maybe when you lose a child, your scale of what is and isn’t important changes.  It seems silly that research was done at both Harvard and Yale estimating Barbie’s measurements at 39-23-33.  That information came out of the great think-tanks of America.  Can you think of a cure for cancer, first?

If at age five I could have mentally graphed out the proportion ration of Barbie to adult size, surely I would have been a math prodigy.  I wasn’t a mini-Mensa member. Instead, my parents got a daughter that struggled to read and just loved Barbie clothes.

I never viewed Barbie as a maniacal marketing scheme to ruin the self-image of women everywhere.  She was just a cheap plastic doll that Mom and Nana made clothes for.

I never aspired to look like Barbie.  Come to think of it, I wanted Barbie to look like me.  I was always irritated if new versions were available in blonde only.  Call me a biased brunette.

My Barbie Hot Rod, pictured above, was one of my favorite toys, ever.  I wish I could say it was a big surprise that Christmas 1963 in New Orleans, LA.  Not so much…  Once I learned there was no Santa, I became an investigative pro, searching out all toy locations.  If gifts were already wrapped, God forbid, my amazing artistic small-motor skills came into play as I carefully unwrapped and wrapped all the loot.

I loved my Barbie Hot Rod so much I’m hoping Mattel makes a vintage reproduction so I can buy it at Wal-Mart for $39.95.  It would be crazy (though understandable) for a woman to buy one, NIB (New-In-Box), on E-bay for over $350 just to bring back that magic feeling.  In spite of my auto affection, I never wanted to own a real turquoise hot rod car with peach interior, all tricked out with excessive chrome.  I’ve also never been to the Nascar races.

At any given moment there were piles of Barbies (Skipper, Midge and Ken, too) laying naked on the basement floor, awaiting the next play day where they would be appropriately dressed in homemade, Mom-made, Nana-made fashions.  It was all about the clothes.  In spite of this regular big heap of doll nakedness on the 79th Street basement floor, I never aspired to join a nudist colony.

Barbie’s devilish influence did sneak into the heart of my BFF Janet, who would have her Barbie and Ken make-out on a bed made of wash cloths.  By age 13 Janet was arrested for kissing Mark behind Skateland.  They went on to marry and have four children.  (It all started with Barbie and Ken. *gasp*)  Janet and Mark take ballroom dancing on Monday nights, and they have at least one date night a week. Janet is 54, and they have loved each other 41 of those years.  Maybe we should buy every girl in America a Barbie.

Megan Bosselman
Megan - First Day of Kindergarten

Barbie was not invited back to play when Megan was born.  In the 1980’s I bought into the ban on Barbie and I didn’t buy my girl one.  My ridiculous rational was that Barbie was in career crisis…she had just way too many jobs, and its a good life skill to pick something and stick with it.  Silly me.  I see the world differently now.

If we hold Barbie to this Big Girl scale, then why don’t we stop and think “What if Cabbage Patch Girls were scaled to adult size?”  I called on a medical profession, Dr. Caitlin Foxley, a woman who actually did save and prolong my daughter’s life, to give me the skinny on Megan’s doll.  After I e-mailed the doll’s measurements, Dr. Foxley wrote (on her lunch hour):

Assuming a height of 66″ which is 5’6″ she would have 50″ bust, 50″ waist, and 50″ hips. Cankles 29″.  Morbidly Obese.

Maybe I should have thought of THAT before we bought Megan a Cabbage Patch Doll?  But Saturday Morning Cartoons commercials sent out a ‘must have’ toy advisory.  Her dad and I complied.  We waited in line a time or two, or three or four.   It was a different doll, different generation, but still my mom/Megan’s mumsy sewing doll clothes from remnants of a school dress.  Some may call my behavior wrong for yielding to the highly marketed toy.  I called it love.

Money couldn’t buy what Dann and I wanted for Megan as she journeyed to the end of her life with cancer.  As my girl was dying she knew above all else that material things are but a shadow in the light of eternity.  Yet in Megan’s final weeks of life she thanked me for going to such great lengths to find those few sought-after toys.

I miss my living doll.

Key Notes:

  • Don’t make decisions for other parents as to what toys are right or wrong for their children.  Loving and managing your own children should be job enough.
  • Let’s be honest.  Sometimes material things do make us happy.

On A Lighter Notes:

  • Even though I owned a Barbie Hot Rod, I am a slow, old-lady driver.
  • I was never much of a Ken Fan.  One of my handsome, rugged, and manly male friends, who insists on remaining anonymous, said it’s because I never owned the Ken Scuba-Diving Suit.  (He also insisted I use all those adjectives to describe him.)
  • Another anonymous male friend recounts that he used to sneak in and look at his sisters’ Barbies, with the hope of discovering more information on female anatomy.  Barbie left him no satisfaction.
  • My literary coach, Erin, owned the Barbie Dream House with Elevator.  She told me she still wants to live there.
  • Megan bought me Barbie’s Yellow Volkswagon.  It was the real car I drove in high school.  My Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Brunette Latino Barbie, designed by Robert Best, sits at the wheel…pom poms included.

Category: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders - Making the Team



  1. What a beautiful story. Whatever might be said about Barbie, she has been a great friend to so many little girls. She gave my younger sister happy days as a child and still more wonderful days as she fought cancer. She lost her fight with cancer but I can’t look at my Barbies without mentally asking her what she thinks. You’re right, sometimes material things do make us happy.

    1. Donna,

      For all the posts on my blog, yours moved me to tears. It caught me by surprise as I fill the late evening hours with writing. Actually, as your post sifted across my desk, I was working on a piece about my Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Barbie!

      Before my girl passed on, she bought me the Barbie Yellow Volkswagon. My first car was a yellow bug, and Megan wanted me to have the toy as a symbol of happier times.

      It makes me happy every morning when I look at it…with DCC Barbie at the helm.

      At this moment my heart is with you….not because of Barbie…but because we share the understanding of losing a precious girl in our lives.

      Wishing you fond memories and grace in the loss of your precious sister.

  2. Say it ain’t so! I can’t imagine we had to share the Hot Rod. I think the photo evidence says it all. I also don’t recall you in the auto body shop (my art desk) when I had to try and repair the broken off, pimped-out chrome? 🙂

  3. Hi Val …
    Your love for Barbie, mirrors mine. 🙂 My nonna made me Barbie clothes, My Barbies boyfriend was my brother’s GI Joe’s (she had LOTS of boyfriends) and I never got a complex because of her perfect bod. She encouraged my feminine side, and my love of fashion. Your blogs are the best. God Bless.

  4. Val,
    What was I thinking? Just as the words were out of my mouth about the wash cloth bed I knew that I had just made a big mistake and that I would someday regret it.
    And as far as Mark & I making out behind skateland?
    How could I resist he was so hot!! and still is!!!!
    When you write you make the words come to life!!!
    You are a dear friend!

  5. Val, as usual you never cease to amaze me! Your writing takes me back to happier days and the simple things that made life good. I love you and cherish your friendship so much! By the way…who is this rugged, handsome and manly friend of yours?! lol!

  6. Val,
    Forget about Barbie. Her measurements may be impressive, but those legs must be at least 7 feet long on a real body.

    Instead, let me introduce you to my little Ginger Doll. Oh, the memories. Spunky and cute, age appropriate body…I’d hate to admit how long I played with that doll. She topped my Tiny Tears and replaced my paper dolls. She was the best.

    So, dear friend, go ahead and get your hot rod. My doll was not old enough to drive, so I will just savor my memories of her walking everywhere.

    ps Lucky you. Nobody sewed clothes for my Ginger. I had to scrimpt and save to keep her in the latest duds, but it was worth it.

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain

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