When I was a kid, I loved dolls--and back in the '80s, dolls had jobs to do. Some could eat food and poop it out, others could grow their hair if your cranked their arms. Today, I will recall a few personal favorites.
The most exciting dolls were usually the ones that were advertised as "so lifelike!" or "just like a real baby!" However, although the commercials for them were always extremely compelling, the resulting dolls were usually so not real. They were basically design flaws in pink dresses, as with Exhibits A and B below.
I always knew there was something Not Right with the way Baby Alive's face looked, and it wasn't until much, much later that I realized it was the fact that she looked like a blow-up doll. However, the permanently open mouth was the aesthetic price we had to pay for this "realistic" doll that could eat and drink and--get this--poop and pee!
Even as a child I was acutely aware that Baby Alive, who actually belonged to my sister, was just a scam to get people to keep going back to Toys R Us to buy the special food packets she ate and the diapers she crapped the runny little cherry powder mix into five seconds later. As a result, the lesson we all learned from Baby Alive was not "babies need frequent feedings and diaper changes;" it was, "when food and diapers get to expensive, you can just stop buying them and move onto a doll that is more fun and doesn't trickle wee wee onto you."
In real life, though, this doll was just a hot water bottle with a head. Yes, she jiggled when you touched her, but that was it. You couldn't hold her for extended amounts of time, because she was way too floppy and was usually leaking tepid water from the plug in her back. She was just as lifelike as any boneless, muscle-less child you might encounter.
Water Baby's head was the only exception to her jigglyness: it was hard, plastic, and weighed about 10 pounds. If you accidentally hit your head against Water Baby's, the pain was pretty bad. Parenting lesson learned: baby heads are made of steel.
Another booming subset of the doll market were the dolls that lit up, sparkled, etc. They usually required huge batteries, ones that you would have to steal from your parents' emergency flashlight, and then when there was a blackout you would have to explain that the reason we were all stumbling around in the dark was because you wasted the D batteries making your PJ Sparkles doll glow for two straight hours.
The story behind PJ Sparkles, as best as I can recall from fragmented memories supplemented by Google searching, was that she was an orphan who was so excited to be loved by you that your hugs made her light up. That's not desperate-sounding.
(On a related note, why did so many dolls have an orphan back story? Isn't that a little depressing?)
P.J. Sparkles--with her jewelry, Aryan good looks and the sparkle filaments running through her hair--was a big favorite of mine. However, she was also quite uncomfortable to sleep with due to the ginormous plastic light-up bow on her head.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to a doll who I loved to pieces and whose look I think has withstood the test of time.
Punky Brewster was the bomb. I went through a phase where I brought mine everywhere. She even came to my uncle's wedding, wearing a miniature matching flower girl dress over her jeans and mismatched sneaks.
Looking at this picture, I think Punky still has it goin' on. That outfit is still totally sweet, and the bandana around her knee is so gangsta, it's unbelievable.
If you're loving the '80s doll action, here are a couple sites to keep you going: