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The Midge Factor
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The Midge Factor

The Midge Factor
                        ...or, My First Triple-Digit Doll.


I love Barbie. Kind of a given, right - I mean, the title of the whole site is 'Yard Sale Barbie'. When I was a kid, I loved the glamor, the fuschia evening gowns and matching boas - even though I grew up in the Best Buy Peasant Dress /Fake Patchwork Jumper era. I once bought what I thought was a lacy-topped floor-length gown...only to find upon opening it, that it was actually balooning wide-leg pants (Palazzo Pants), not a dress. Even when I couldn't really identify with her overwhelming California Blondeness, I still loved the fantasy life I lived through her. I never heard of PJ or Francie, as the few stores who stocked Mattel toys only held the Eternal Triumvirate - Barbie, Ken, Skipper.

So I did what I could as a chubby green-eyed brunette in a room of all-blonde dolls - I made them construction-paper wigs, or just pretended. Anything so they sort of resembled me a little. Barbie reflected the world then - only Blondes were beautiful, so Barbie was never brunette or flame-haired. It never occurred to me to color their hair with markers - after my mother chewed me out in whispers during a PTA meeting in the auditorium for taking Ballerina' s hair down, there was no way I could even imagine doing anything so drastic. She couldn't imagine why I wanted that Kenner Princess Leia so much - it was because she had brown hair, and even the Star Wars novel said she was beautiful. It was the first time I'd ever heard anyone call a dark-haired woman that. So Leia gave me a hope that Barbie never could. It also helped that she had a sort-of chunky body...

I wish I'd known about Midge. It's been four years since I  'went public' with my little doll habit, and I've gotten older and less distracted by every doll come down the pike, so I've come to appreciate her unique look. Described in the Barbie books as 'round and dark as a berry', I know I could have appreciated her as a kid, too - even when I still wanted the slinky gowns. Midge would have been the one to go on trips with. Midge would have been the main doll, and Sweet 16 would have been her best friend.

It's actually a bit of a challenge to find a really pretty Midge. Since dolls back in the Vintage days were all hand-painted, each is unique...but Midge often ends up looking beyond mere unique ! It's often in her eyes. Some have 'lazy eyes' that weren't spaced evenly, or her eye makeup makes her look bug-eyed, or the lights in her eyes are so off from each other, you have to wonder what she 'sees'. That may be just one of the reasons a vintage Midge in good shape is usually less than $100. when a Barbie from the same year is ten times that. I have to wonder how many Midge heads get scrapped to give another vamp Barbie a body upgrade.

A quiet moment

It's funny to note that very few Barbies, even with the haughty, almost condemning side glance, are painted so weirdly. Is the wide-eyed look so difficult to paint ? Or did they simply spend more time on Barbie's signature look, less on her tag-along friend ?

Seems to extend to the collectors, too. When I read another article about Corazon Yellen's collection (and see photos of dolls wearing replicas of her clothes posed next to photos of Ms. Yellen), or that this LA maven (svelte, tan, blonde, natch) 'decorated' her entire guest home (that's "home", not 'room') in boxed collector Barbies, I have to think about what each article is really saying. I've never read an article about a Barbie collector who collects the way I do, or shows a less-than thin, pretty collector. One article featured a Mrs. USA collector. Oh, sure, there's the occasional, "Hey, look, Grammaw has 200 Barbies' human-interest tale, but it's rare.

You also rarely hear about Midge. There's entire groups focused on Francie. I've read a few hundred articles about Skipper, and I don't even like SilkStones, but I know all about 'em. Damn straight you're never gonna see a butt-ugly bad-paint-job Silkie ! They probably take the badly painted Silkies out behind the factory and beat 'em up with hammers, so you'll never see one less than perfect. Only article I ever read about Midge focused on the new ones, and even it was mostly on the use of the Diva head mold. Oh, yes, and doesn't Barbie Bazaar  wish we could forget their little faux pas flap over the Western Philadelphia's anniversary Midge 'not up to the standards of the increasingly sophisticated collector'.

I sometimes think there's a Midge Factor. If you're not up to some societal standard, you should step back and let the Prom Queen and Football Hero be the font of wisdom and leadership. I mean, let's face it, Midge was created to 'soften' Barbie - she can't be such a tawdry sexy toy if she's got a plain-Jane friend, right ? But then Midge didn't make even her own standard and vanished in favor of Mod, with-it PJ and Stacey. Even now, Barbie is surrounded by exotic friends - Midge is still around, but can't be Barbie's best friend anymore - she's pregnant and away from the glitter and glamor. A 'safe' Barbie-size doll you could give to a child if you object to Barbie's current fondness for belly-wear and FM shoes. Midge is like a lot of us, lost in her own world, created to fill a space, but condemned to obscurity because she can't be what her friend is.

Still, there's worse things than obscurity. There's something to be said for enjoying a home and family, and not chasing after beach boys with Babs like you were both still sixteen, instead of inching on up to 50. I can imagine her consoling Ken after this year's publicity stunt breakup, urging him to find someone less shallow than his never-there former inamorata. It must be nice to be able to forge your own story without having Mattel write it and animate it for you.

So, what's with all the Midge-love ? Well, I'm buying one, at the urging of my ever-understanding hubby. She's adorable and sweet-looking, a vintage brunette cutie who would fit right into my world of thrift-store, Dollar Tree, second-hand, made-over populace, even though she's none of these things. She's the most expensive doll I'll ever own, and she's worth every penny. I realized the greatest thing about Midge. She'll never be a haughty SilkStone, or a fashion model...but she can always be someone else's friend. That's who Midge really is. It's why she gets overlooked and neglected and sometimes used to make some other doll look better. That happens sometimes, when youre allowed to have your own life, with no expectations save your own. 


Addendum : My vintage Midge arrived today. And she's even more beautiful than I thought. And it's true - if you put her in a good pair of shoes she'll stand by herself ! Amazing ! She's currently wearing a pair of open-toe slides from a cherry-print Fashion Avenue, and standing with one foot slightly behind the other. I always thought vintage-philes were pulling my leg about the stand-alone thing.