|No neck, no breasts, long limbs and very wide hips. How could a little Roman girl hope to live up to this?|
A photo of an articulated ivory doll found in 1964 in Rome has recently made the rounds on the internet. The doll is part of the funeral dowry of a little girl laid in a marbled carved sarcophagus. It is now in the National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo.
Let’s call her Livia for fun. Livia is preternaturally tall and thin, neckless, with pubescent breasts, wide hips, and a prominent belly. She has a long Roman nose.
|Livia has a classic Roman profile.|
Every female person alive knows this doll is incomplete. The girl’s mother would have made little tunica intima and stola for Livia. In fact, by age eight, Livia’s owner would probably have been doing needlework for her precious doll herself.
|Barbie and I are the same age, but she's had more plastic surgery than me.|
I like to imagine a certain kind of Roman matron, gossiping with her friends behind a fan about how Livia will undermine the confidence of her young owner. “If she were real, she’d be built like a broomstick, with arms that could reach from the Tiber to the Aqua Claudia,” she would say. “And no woman could hope to keep breasts that small.”
I wasn’t permitted to play with Barbie dolls as a child, and I didn’t let my own girls have them—until I realized that my ban was fueling their interest. After that, our household became like any other home with girls: seemingly thousands of impossibly small shoes hiding on the floor, waiting to stab the unsuspecting foot.
|Dashing Daisy was a fashion doll designed by Mary Quant and distributed in the UK in the 1970s. She made Barbie seem dowdy.|
The impossibly leggy and busty Barbie has had a pretty good run, at age 56. But she wasn’t the first fashion doll, and she won’t be the last. After watching three girls with dolls, I’ve realized the point isn’t to make little girls feel bad about themselves; the point is to give them something to play dress-up with.