Growing up, I loved playing with Barbies. The best thing about them was that you could change their personality or career or identity at any time you wanted. Barbie could be a career woman, or she could be taking the day off to enjoy some time with her really close best friend. Even if you didn’t have the pink dream car or the massive mansion with the light-up pool, Barbie was the star of her own show, and my sister and I used our collection of dolls to make up all kinds of fantastical scenarios. And because I was a budding young femme lesbian, some of these included Barbies having romantic relationships with other Barbies. (Or Kelly Martin from 90210, because I had her Barbie, too.)
I know I’m not alone in this. Having your Barbie be bisexual or full-on lez doesn’t mean you will grow up to be gay (more creative and open-minded, surely) but the very possibility that came along with a doll you could use to be whatever you wanted her to be was one of the reasons I was obsessed with her. But because all Barbies came with long locks, some Barbies had to get haircuts, and somewhere along the line, I was creating butch Barbie without even realizing it.
Recently Mattel has announced a new wave of Barbie designs, with dolls that have all kinds of body shapes, ethnicities, hairstyles and heights. Finally young girls are going to be able to own little replicas of themselves because even though I wasn’t a Barbie-lookalike in my youth, I could, at least, identify with her being white. So many other little girls had to have even more imagination when it came to who their dolls were, but none of us were ever Barbie.
Today, Mattel made yet another announcement at the MAKERS Conference in California. Their new Abby Wambach Barbie is part of their “If she can see it, she can be it” initiative, and that’s why the out lesbian athlete is being made into a doll any little girl can own.
The Abby Wambach doll has the short, blonde undercut hairdo, the sporty attire, the “points of articulation” (aka movable limbs, because she is a soccer player and all). Abby herself said she played with Barbies while growing up, even though she never “they never looked how she felt.”
“It just proves that we really are getting somewhere,” Abby said on the MAKERS stage. “And not everybody is created equal and if you’re out there and maybe your doll doesn’t look exactly like you feel, here’s another option.”
In the past, Ellen DeGeneres has joked “I think they should have a Barbie with a buzzcut,” and now they do. For girls who are tomboys or prefer short hair or idolize athletes more than they do anyone else in the world, the Abby Wambach Barbie is a revelation. In the past, there have been WNBA Barbies (1998), but they were all still very feminine with huge long ponytails and feminine faces.
Kristy McNichol was also a tomboyish Barbie during her time on the hit show Family, and Rosie O’Donnell had her own doll during the height of her talk show career, and but both dolls came out before the women did, which is to say both were in the closet when their dolls were released. Abby’s being an out, and proud gay woman is not something to gloss over when it comes to her being seen as a positive role model for young women, and that Mattel is finally realizing and celebrating that.
At some point, you get “too old” to play with Barbies, and it usually happens around the same time you start to discover a little more about yourself and what and who you like. But the same kinds of thoughts we had about our Barbies motivations and how they moved through the world aren’t so far from how we see ourselves and what we hope to become, which is why a doll version of an androgynous woman like Abby Wambach is not only exciting but long overdue.