In the toy department at Fred Meyer’s last week, I watched as a mother dragged her daughter over to the doll department and asked her to choose which color stroller she wanted. The girl, maybe 7 years old, wearily said she’d take the purple one.
I have been researching dolls for my book on childless women. I knew what we had when I was a child, but not what kids are playing with now. Only a childless woman with no little kids in her life would have to rely on Google and trips to Wal-Mart and Freddies to find out what dolls are hot now. I felt like a spy, whispering into my little voice recorder as I roamed the aisles. Keep in mind I live in a small town. We don’t have a Toys R Us.
Thank God there are still plenty of baby dolls, but some of them do so much I can see how they’d wear a little girl out. The first ones I saw, on the end display, actually defecate. Seriously. They come with fake food, fake poop and fake diapers, which I suppose one has to replenish on a regular basis. Who decided that was fun?
Other dolls drink and wet, just like good old Betsy Wetsy of the 50s. Water goes in one hole and out the other. The baby dolls close their eyes when they lie down and open them when tilted upward. Some are programmed to randomly wake up giggling or crying. Some say a few words. They come with lots of accessories, including diapering supplies, bottles and food, play pens, car carriers, strollers, and sleeping bags. You’d need a station wagon to carry all their stuff around.
However, these dolls are awfully cute and lifelike. In addition to pressing all the “try me” buttons, I wanted to scoop one out and hug it. I guess that’s why I still have my Chatty Cathy doll, pictured above. She speaks as if she’s had a stroke now, but I still enjoy her company.
There are plenty of older dolls these days, referred to as “fashion dolls.” These include the Bratz line that has been demeaned for teaching shallow values. I don’t know; I think they’re cute, although their huge painted-on eyes are kind of strange. We also have lots of Dora dolls. And Barbie’s still around, slightly more realistic-looking than she was in the ’60s.
Most girls enjoy dressing their dolls and pretending to send them to school or parties or into glamorous careers. Kids get to practice for real life. I don’t see a problem with that, although many of the childless women I have interviewed claimed they never liked to play with dolls. Foreshadowing their future?
It’s encouraging that today’s dolls come in multiple ethnicities. On the other hand, it worries me that so many of them come with names, prefab dialogue and written histories. I think one of the best parts of play is using one’s imagination. Let the little girls name their own dolls and make up their own stories. That’s part of the fun, having those conversations that start, “Let’s say we’re going to the store and . . . ”
In addition to the many dolls, Wal-Mart and Freddies offered lots of stuffed animals, including a parrot that never shut up, and a dog that supposedly lifted its leg and peed if you pushed the right button. Again, like the defecating doll, a little too real.
I’m happy to report that there are still plenty of dolls, and they’re not going to corrupt our society’s children.
As a woman who never finished growing up, I kind of want one. Is that why we get pets? An adult woman doesn’t look half as crazy cuddling a terrier as she does holding a Little Mommy doll—unless of course she can find an actual little girl to play with.
Copyright 2007 Sue Fagalde Lick