Islamic Revolution Barbie

Porochista Khakpour in The New York Times:

Barb IN the days leading up to Barbie’s cougariffic 50th birthday — today — most everyone has had a story to tell. Mine begins in 1958 in one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, Hamedan, Iran, and it begins with my mother, then just a small girl, and Barbie’s international predecessor and antithesis: the porcelain baby doll.

My mother used to break her porcelain baby dolls — a luxury among her friends, who grew up with mother- and sister-manufactured rag dolls — constantly. One day my grandmother, the teacup-sized trophy wife of the president of the National Iranian Oil Company of Hamedan, took my mother to the local toy stores in search of the routine replacement. To their horror, there were no dolls to be found.

The burden was then placed on a clueless male cousin en route from Europe to bring my mother a new doll. When it arrived, the new doll was everything the other doll was not — here was a foot-long, fussy thing, half the mass and a quarter of the weight of the old clunky ceramic suckling. Some parts were molded (earrings, lashes, breasts); others simply painted on (made-up face, polished fingernails, side-scoping eyes), and the doll donned grown-lady garb. It was the German Bild Lilli doll — the prototype that Ruth Handler used to create the American Barbie in 1959 — the postwar, sugar-daddy-mongering vixen of German comic strips.

My mother’s reaction: puzzled. How do you play with this? It’s a woman, not a baby! In the end, my grandmother had to take Lilli and my mother to the store, where my mother gave her up for yet another infinitely breakable, but round and cradle-able, infant, the type my mother could more comfortably mother.

More here.