Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Barbie Girl

Last post I mentioned Barbie.

Odd reference, and I had to think about why I was thinking about Barbie, something I have little or no association with (other than my infamous "Barbie Girl Dance", formerly the hit of battalion dining-ins) typically. Turns out that it combines our adoption trip to Guangzhou, and Missy's new bedroom.

In the process of setting up Missy with her new digs we culled through her toys, pitching many of them into the Goodwill bag, but also finding a few new ones for baby girl. Among them was "Going Home Barbie".Now you can't go to Toys R Us and pick up a "Going Home Barbie". You can't get one from the dolls-and-teddies store, or at a collectors show unless you're very industrious.

Because the only way to get one of these things is to go to China and adopt a little orphan.

I'm not sure if everyone gets one. But I know that if you go to China and stay at the White Swan Hotel on Shamian Island you will. It shows up in your room one day, like a pillow mint or fresh towels. You come in and there it is on the TV cabinet or on the desk; perky-faced, slender, blonde Barbie holding her adorable dusky Chinese Orphan Barbie Baby.

I don't know whether Chinese Orphan Barbie Baby comes with eczema, giardia and scabies or whether you have to buy them with the "Social Welfare Institute Disease Playset" sold separately.I was frankly too stressed and overwhelmed by the mess of Baoxin's disrupted adoption and our subsequent whirlwind week with Shaomei to really think much about Going Home Barbie. I know she got thrown in the luggage because she turned up on Mojo's dresser sometime in the autumn of 2007 and hung around up there for a while. Eventually she disappeared and I can't say I regretted her much.

But this past weekend suddenly, there was Little Miss, clutching Chinese Orphan Barbie Baby. I went to look and there was Mommy Barbie, facedown on the bedroom floor, abandoned for the moment. Mojo explained that she had come across Going Home Barbie and had finally accepted that it was Just A Toy and, as such, belonged with a child. Barbie and Baby were played with for less than a day before they went back into the loose-toy bin on the bottom shelf of the armoire.

I'm not sure where I stand on Barbies in general and "fashion dolls" for my little girl in particular. We have not emphasized these dolls, or the other apparently inescapable preteen-girl accessory, the "Disney Princess", but we have not actively discouraged them, either. Little Miss seems to treat them like any other toy, no more treasured than her stuffed animals, her bike, or her puzzles, and much less than her favorite books, which she adores and will drag around to be read and re-read to her whenever possible.

If that changes, we may have to decide what to do about dolls with the physiques of stick-insects with breasts and permanently deformed feet. But not today.

But what really occurred to me as I stood contemplating prone Barbie abandoned on the woodwork was to wonder what a Chinese toy factory worker thought assembling this doll that would would seem almost a comic-book representation of the history of Western colonialism and cultural imperialism that's often linked with international adoption. Does this silly bit of commercial crap say anything about international adoption? Nothing? Nothing good? Or just nothing at all, just another damn cynical marketing ploy, a politically incorrect misfit toy, the lawn dart of dolls?

What does she know of disculturation, of assimilation? Of the loss of her child's native language and surroundings, what does she care? Does she try to get Ken to go to Mandarin class? To play Hong Kong hip-hop and wear Shanghai fashions? Does she worry that her daughter will be castigated if she wants to date nice Chinese boys as an "ABC" - "American Born Chinese"...and stereotyped by Caucasian boys as a "China Doll"?

Barbie herself says nothing. She just teeters there in her hot pink CFM pumpsand her vacant grin, unaware that her Chinese baby is mingling with the my little ponies and the Little People and Noah's animals down in the toy basket on the floor. Unconcerned about all the things waiting out there for a little Chinese girl growing up in America. She doesn't worry about race, and gender, and hope, and fear.

And Little Miss doesn't either.



walternatives said...

The Going Home Barbie was one of the main reasons that we DIDN'T stay at the White Swan. Turns my stomach. And people in our agency travel group were plenty pissed that the WS had run out of them by the time that they got to GZ, going so far as contacting the agency director (WTF?) to complain; it was that important to them.

Maia said...

I think there will be great protest art made with those Barbies some day. I'm saving FF's for the moment when she wants to incorporate it into her installation piece.

Lisa said...

Going Home Barbie is interesting and subversive. Like you say, she is totally vacuous and consumptive. The sort of person who keeps China afloat, both through her bottomless buying sprees and by taking unwanted Chinese girls off their hands.

IMHO, it's great that your daughter prioritizes no dolls over her books. My mom went out of her way to tell me Barbie was a total crock, a representation of unattainable proportions. I had plushy dolls and stuffed animals with whom I enjoyed many an afternoon tea, but I never "played" with the brittle Barbie. Don't think I missed much.

You see, I enjoyed cuddling with my dolls and animals, and Barbie would've made for one nasty hard experience under covers.

sheerahkahn said...

I actually like the "Barbie turning 50!" vid that is cycling around right now.
Cougar Barbie.
I laughed my ass off over that one.

FDChief said...

W: Wierd thing is, we didn't know anything about the doll until we saw it. We hadn't spent a lot of time haunting the adoption sites other than the ALTs, so it was pretty much a surprise to us.

Sad that some of your travel group were so hung up on a silly bit of plastic.

M: That should be interesting.

Sheerah: She looks very well preserved for 50, I must say.

Lisa: Clever of you to recognize early on that hard and brittle usually bodes poorly for a relationship!

As I said, I'm not so much ANTI-Barbie as just non-Barbie. The last time I really thought about them was when I was eleven and wondered what would happen if you planted one up to it's shoulders and ran over it with a power mower.

Red Sand said...

Somewhat off-topic, but Autumn 2007! Has it really been that long??

FDChief said...

RS: Yep. This month was pass the bingo point with her, that is, she will have spent more time as part of our family than she's been alive. That's kinda special, neh?

Lisa said...


When you were 11, you were a budding Caligula, no? :)

FDChief said...

Lisa: Utinam populus Barbieus unam cervicem haberet!

Lisa said...

What a wicked boy!

Lisa said...


"Clever of you to recognize early on that hard and brittle usually bodes poorly for a relationship!"

Sorry I missed the obvious implication on our eponymous Ranger. He caught it though, and accepts the sad truth of it.

I do not believe all Ranger boys must be this way, however, and have a quite a thing for our men in uniform -- the more compassionate ones, that is ;).

FDChief said...

Lisa: I have to say that I ws not thinking particularly of ANY one person...but given that Jim pretty much admits that his gentler side is...well, there ISN'T much gentler side.

And given the way we cut and bruise each other, even when we love dearly, the lack of that soft layer of emotional subcutaneous fat, would be hard to hold someone close for very long.

One thing that we are never taught and many of us don't wat to learn is that there are other kinds of wounds than the ones that destroy your body. The wounds done to, for lack of a better word, your soul by a callous childhood, by war, by hatred or neglect or abuse...for as much as the visible war wounds leave their trail of broken lives, lost careers, failed hopes so do the emotional damages we carry with us.

Sometimes the deepest chest wound is the one to the heart.

I can only reply with the gravest of respect that your willingness to hope and love is a testament to your humanity and the depth of your own heart.

Placetne, magistra

Lisa said...


(Your eloquence and understanding moves me.)

Table Barbie said...

Odd reference, and I had to think about why I was thinking about Barbie, something I have little or no association with (other than my infamous ...