Wednesday, October 22, 2008

paper dolls then and now

My sisters and I used to love playing with paper dolls. In the early 60s paper dolls were actually made of paper. You can still buy them like that, but now there are more "options". The paper dolls we played with used to come in large, flat booklets like the ones that Valentine's cards used to come in. Like each and every Valentine, you had to painstakingly cut out each of the paper doll's clothes. The paper dolls themselves were punched out of thicker, shinier paper.

The clothes had little white tabs that you folded back to secure to the doll. Inevitably, despite our chastising ourselves to "be careful not to wreck the tabs!", we unintentionally cut through them, or bent too many times, they simply fell off. Then the clothes couldn't stick on the doll. Yet, there was something about the fragility of these paper dolls that drew us to them, but what we really liked about paper dolls was that we could draw and cut out our own outfits for them. It was an occasion to use Katja's precious Laurentian pencil crayons! (Laurentian was the only brand available, and they were expensive). Being the older sister, she was the one who was given the privilege by our parents of getting pencil crayons. Remember, this is in the days when each child amassing her own hordes of stuff did not exist.

An important difference from the 60s and now is that there wasn't as much consumer stuff, but getting 'stuff' was well on its way to becoming implanted in our minds, as this was the rise of consumer culture. On the rare occasion when we had money to spend or were given the 10c needed to get on the bus, my sister Katja and I would walk to the bus stop at the end of the line on Red River Road and take the trolley downtown Port Arthur to Kresge's to look over the paperdolls.

If we didn't have any money and were lucky to get an old discarded Eaton's or Simpson-Sears catalog, we would cut out women from it, as well as furniture, clothing, and dreamily go through the pages for all those household consumer goods that we imagined we would need when we "were older" and "got married" and had "our own house."

Now, however, while you can still buy those paper booklets, you can buy paper dolls online and select the doll you want. You can even change the head of the doll. You can print up your own doll. You can buy uber patriotic dolls and mold young minds to the story of Homeland Security or you can find multi-ethnic and non-gender specific dolls these days too. My sisters and I were restricted to white women and girls, although we didn't know that then. Mostly fairytale women, like Snow White and Cinderella, or Airline Hostess, all traditional gender scripts.

Today, a girl could spend hours in a consumer dream world of dolls, playing with endless options, such as dressing Shopping Couple or pop teen queen or Teenage Girl Decorating, and with the cursor of her mouse, trying different looks on different dolls, in fact, these new interactive consumer/game sites encourage a girl to select a name for herself and play with different looks, but despite the options, those choices narrowly reflect rigid gender scripts that are entangled in consumption.


LynneMoss47 said...

I just found your blog - it's fantastic. I have some photos taken by the former jackknife bridge - am always fascinated by what lies across the railway tracks from Victoria to the bridge to Fort William First Nation.

northshorewoman said...

thanks, but it's our city and environment-- a wealth of fantastic stuff no matter which way you go/look. Yes, the Jackknife Bridge was/is an interesting place. It is still used for trains, but not for cars or people anymore. Or that's what I've heard. I went there just after it was closed and walked around, but seems that is discouraged...Are your photos on Flikr? I have been meaning to post a blog with photos of the day my sister and me went to try and find the old Mission grounds on FWFN. I will do that soon. I hope to write a book (after I finish my diss, that is!) about unpacking histories in our area, a history that shows some of the gaps that have been left out.