My First Encounter with Barbie as a Soviet Kid

Soviet dolls were nothing like Barbie. They had childish faces, unproportionally big heads, and either plastic or rubber bodies and heads. Some dolls looked like little girls aged 3-6 years old, while others resembled babies, and girls were supposed to play “moms.” My friends and I did this, but only occasionally, and mainly when we were preschoolers.

Back then, we were a gang of four besties. We lived in the same high-rise building and attended the same school. One girl in the gang was a year older than me, one was my age, and another girl was a year younger. We often hung out at the older girl’s apartment, whom we’ll call Vika, and played with a doll that was different from most of the dolls we had: it was a doll from a wedding car. Her parents had given it to her, and we loved to make that doll a princess. There was only one rule: we had to clean the apartment and disappear at 5:30, as Vika’s parents would return home at 6, and our tiny Soviet apartments were not suitable for tired parents and four noisy girls.

Back then, we didn’t know or care about the fact that Vika’s family was German. Yes, she had a German last name, but so did many other kids in our school. One day, Vika told us that she was going to take a trip to Germany with her parents, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She promised to bring some souvenirs from the miraculous “abroad,” and she did when she returned. We loved her little presents – cosmetics for children, bright wallets, and so on. But what left us speechless was a Barbie doll she bought for herself. We hadn’t heard about Barbie before, nor had we seen pictures of her, so we were absolutely shocked by the beauty of that doll.

CC0 Photo from PXHERE

First of all, Barbie was a woman, not a girl, which made us treat her with respect. She was an incredibly beautiful woman, with wonderful hair and a bright, confident smile, making us respect the doll even more. Barbie was like a fairy to us – miraculous and powerful. We fell in love with that doll immediately, and that dress – it was better than any dress we’d seen in our lives. What nearly overwhelmed me was that Barbie could bend her knees; she could sit elegantly, not like our usual dolls with their legs stupidly spread apart.

The wedding doll was no longer interesting to us. We only wanted to play with Barbie, although the word “play” isn’t accurate. We worshiped Barbie. We were afraid to touch her, and only Vika dared to hold her with the greatest care possible. We knew that if anything happened to the doll, we would never, ever find a replacement for it, so we just stared at it in admiration.

I thought Vika looked a bit like Barbie: she was tall, had blond curly hair, and large blue eyes. I was sure that when Vika grew up, she would look like Barbie. I think I even told her that, and she laughed.

Fortunately for us, a new school year began, and we didn’t hang out at Vika’s place anymore. We saw each other at school and played volleyball together in a school team, but Barbie was out of my sight. My heart was still broken from the realization that this world may have such beautiful things.

And then Vika told us that her family was about to move to Germany permanently. We met in our courtyard for the last time. We were all sad, and Vika was calm. Well, she was almost always calm, but that day she was calmer than usual. Vika said that since she was going to Germany, she could buy another Barbie there. She asked if any of us wanted to take her Barbie now. As tempting as it was, we rejected her offer. I would have loved to have a doll like that, but that particular Barbie would remind me of Vika all the time. Why the other girls didn’t take the Barbie, I don’t know. Saying farewell to a good friend without breaking into tears was probably the first mature thing I did in my life.

You may be wondering why there was so much drama. It was the late 1980s, and the Soviet Union was still in place. We hadn’t even heard about the Internet in Siberia yet, and even cell phones were nonexistent. So when somebody moved to another country, it meant a farewell forever, and we knew it.

By accident, my family was moving too – to a different neighborhood, not to a different country, but still, our gang fell apart. When we moved, I decided not to take my dolls with me. I felt that I had outgrown dolls. My mom donated my dolls to a school’s daycare, and I have never regretted that. So, Barbie was the last doll I ever played with.

Many years later, Vika found me on one of the social networks. She had indeed turned into a beautiful woman. She was doing really well in Germany, holding a managerial position in a tool manufacturing company, and had a cute son.