Viking Barbie

L has now got her first Barbie: I wouldn’t have bought it for her myself, but she got it as a Christmas present from a kind friend and I could hardly refuse it. I have no particular feminist objections to L playing with dolls, but I have to admit I find Barbie inferior to the Action Girl I had as a child. It’s not just that her figure is less realistic: at a practical level, she hasn’t got as many moveable joints.

Along with the Barbie has come a new responsibility for me as a mother: making clothes for her. The problem is that it is now quite difficult to buy clothes for Barbies in the shops (I haven’t yet tried eBay). Instead of new outfits, what you get is a different Barbie in a new outfit. Presumably, the economics of this make sense for the manufacturers: from the ecological side (and from the point of view of storage) it’s crazy. It also seems to me wrong at some deeper emotional level. Playing with dolls is a way for a child to recreate the world around them and also create their own world. My Action Girl was, at least some of the time, the person I could not be in reality. Changing a doll’s costume is part of this process of making her do different things. The one/two costumes per Barbie model at some level also suggests limited options for this change. Dancing Princess Barbie cannot the next day become Riding Barbie or Explorer Barbie or Going to the Beach Barbie.

So I have been fiddling around making costumes for Barbie. Again, I don’t feel this is a betrayal of my feminist principles. The disdain that many feminists in the sixties and seventies felt for handicrafts seems to have vanished with compulsory sewing for girls in schools. If you enjoy the process of making something by hand and/or the results are beautiful, why not do it? I don’t have the time or talent to do much creative handicraft, but I don’t see this as a sign of my superior virtue. Instead, like playing a musical instrument, sewing or knitting well come into the category of things I’d like to be good at, but I don’t want that enough to dedicate time to mastering the skills..

Fortunately, at least at the moment, semi-botched jobs are good enough for L’s Barbie. (The great advantage of making clothes for dolls is a) they don’t take anything like as long to sew or knit as real clothes and b) the recipient won’t complain about them being uncomfortable). At the moment I am just making basic things like trousers and hats. Longer-term though, the other feminist advantage of making dolls’ clothes is that you can create costumes for roles that go beyond manufacturers’ stereotypes. I can still remember the judo jacket I made for my Action Girl; indeed I even made her a few pieces of armour. (If you want to know why: I was a medieval nut even as a child. If you want to know how: papier-mâché).

That is advanced stuff: at the moment I am trying to work out the basics, like how to make very small shoes for a doll dumb enough to stand on tiptoe the whole time. Naturally, I went to the internet, to discover that most of the patterns for shoes online are intended for those doing medieval re-enactments. I found a handy one for Viking shoes and thought, maybe sometime in the future, I could do a whole Viking costume for Barbie. Then I made the fatal mistake of googling ‘Viking Barbie’. And there she is, on sale already:

Princess of the Vikings Barbie

(Longer description at

It is staggering. What marketing person thought of this? Who decided that little girls really wanted a Viking doll, but a totally unrealistic Viking doll? That it should have a dinky gold sword and a full-length gown? Why? Why? Why?

L certainly isn’t going to get that Barbie. Instead, she will just have to wait until I get round to making a costume for Unn the Deepminded Barbie (see Laxdaela Saga, Now that’s a Viking woman for you.

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