Cathy Hamilton: Dolls trigger love-hate relationship
October 9, 2008
Of all the horrifying reports I saw on “The Today Show” this week, perhaps the most shocking was the one about grown women playing with dolls.
Now, these aren’t just any dolls. These are eerily lifelike, state-of-the art “reborns” priced at $1,000 and up, the subject of a recent documentary on BBC America called “My Fake Baby.”
The women don’t just play – they CARE for these dolls. Dress them. Change their diapers. Give them pacifiers. Buckle them into car seats. Some of them even have fully decorated nurseries for the “babies.”
I won’t argue whether a 50-year-old woman pushing a fake infant through the produce section is in need of psychological help. To each her own, right? All I’m saying is, you won’t catch ME squeezing melons with a Betsy Wetsy in my cart.
I’ve always had kind of a love-hate relationship with dolls. Never really a girly-girl, I spent my youth in trees and on jungle gyms. But once in a while, a doll would speak to me (sometimes, literally) and I’d find myself tugging at my mother’s skirt: “Can I have her, pul-eeeeze, Mommy?”
The first one to capture my heart was Chatty Cathy. Here was a doll I could relate to. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Mouthy. And my namesake, to boot! What wasn’t to love?
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Chatty held my interest for about 30 minutes on Christmas morning. Let’s face it, she wasn’t exactly a scintillating conversationalist. The girl had a vocabulary of, what, 46 words? By lunchtime, I’d cast her aside with the empty candy cane wrappers.
A few years later, everyone in the neighborhood – if not the universe – had a Barbie doll. Everyone, of course, but me.
“Can I have her, pul-eeeeze, Mommy?!” I asked, incessantly.
“No,” my mother would answer. “She’s too grown-up looking! You’re a young girl! What’s wrong with a baby doll?”
Looking back, I’m certain my mother was deeply concerned about Barbie’s – how do I say this? – physicality. Parents in the early ’60s were unaccustomed to buxom, adult-figured dolls with limbs that could be bent into compromising positions. Although Barbie and Ken weren’t completely anatomically correct, Mom must have feared they’d become involved in some X-rated scenarios behind closed doors (or as X-rated as a 9-year-old could get in 1964).
Or perhaps she could foretell the havoc to be wreaked upon the old Hoover by Barbie’s minuscule high heels.
Still, my persistence paid off, and, on my birthday, I was presented with my very own : drum roll, please … Midge. WHAT?!? After four months of self-degrading begging, she offers me Barbie’s BEST FRIEND?
Clearly, my well-meaning mother had decided that Midge – who had the same proportions and flexibility as Barbie – was less likely to lead me to ruin due to her virginal freckles and flip hairdo. And I surely wouldn’t be finding Alan, Midge’s boyfriend, in my stocking that year. You can forget about that right now, missy!
In the end, I really wasn’t much of a doll lover. In fact, after a “Twilight Zone” episode in which a Chatty Cathy clone terrorized and ultimately bumped off a little girl’s father (“My name is Talking Tina, and I’m going to kill you,”) I gave them up altogether.
Years later, my daughter would drag me back into Doll Land. Our toy chest overflowed with Barbie dolls, dresses and accessories. My vacuum cleaner choked on diminutive pumps. And, yes, there were a few Kens and GI Joes thrown into the mix. I prayed every night there was no hanky-panky happening in Barbie’s Dream House.
Eventually, she, too, put her dolls away for good and moved on to less childish pursuits, like dressing and accessorizing herself. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against dolls. In fact, I look forward to the day when I can buy a slew of them for my granddaughter.
But if, years from now, you see me wandering through the produce aisle, a Baby Whatchamacallit perched in my grocery cart and no grandchild in sight, grab a melon and whack me over the head, will you?