They went to school and whispered about the Spice Girls and the two boys in town behind their seemingly nonexistent teachers’ backs. They went home in a giant shoebox-schoolbus, and by the time they hit the first bus stop, the bus’s contents had shifted considerably. The school was always right by the nice part of town, so the popular girls—Polly with the blonde pigtails, Polly in the pink minidress, Polly’s brunette friend who always wore a swimsuit to school—were the first ones off the bus. I could have made them go home and do their homework, but after they finished cheerleading practice, it was usually partytime (whatever 7-year-old me thought cool teenagers did at parties).
I preferred to play Polly Pocket by myself—when I had friends over, they’d want to change the layout of the town or which centimeter-tall dolls were friends with each other. Sometimes it was nice to have others join in on the fun, but my friends always disrupted the continuity of whatever soap opera I was writing in my head, and never helped me clean up when we were done playing. In the giant bin under my bed, I had enough houses and businesses (many of which had apartments on top: likely why the idea of living above a shop appeals to me today) to build a sprawling plastic metropolis that spanned my entire bedroom. With each themed building I got coming with a Polly doll and maybe three of her fittingly dressed friends, the town’s population grew to over 100. There were a few casualties—those dolls who broke at the waist from too much play, or those shoved to the darkest corners of my room when my mom came in and told me to clean my room immediately. But for the most part, the mini citizens of my bedroom lived long, happy lives (I still secretly played with them through maybe the eighth or ninth grade, and I’m pretty sure they’re still somewhere in my mom’s basement).
Bluebird Toys, the company that sold Polly Pockets from their 1989 release until they were bought out in 1998, also released a line of Mighty Max miniatures directed at boys. In addition, I had multiple playsets from Disney’s Pollyesque line (the aforementioned two boys in town were a Mighty Max figurine and one of John Smith. Mini-Pocahontas was constantly warding off classmates who had the hots for John). My favorite knockoff playset featured a family of four and a large house with rearrangable rooms; in all the houses sold by Bluebird, the furniture was built into the plastic floors, with little spaces that determined where Polly and her friends could sit or stand). Still, nothing beat an authentic Polly Pocket playset—there were so many of them to collect/beg my parents for (a Polly with rollerblades affixed to her feet, horseback riding Pollys whose legs were built to straddle a saddle, a Polly with a magnet in her feet so that she could move across her living room when you pulled a lever, Polly Pocket-sized dogs and cats). With so many possibilities, it became easy to have a world unto myself.
After Mattel acquired Bluebird, they began phasing the line into the taller dolls, made out of softer plastic and with changeable clothing, that they still sell today. Maybe it was a safety issue—parents could have been getting more paranoid about the original dolls’ tiny size (or maybe kids were just getting dumber and more likely to eat little plastic people for breakfast). Maybe the company just wanted a line that could compete with lines such as Bratz and the like. With Sims-like games and role playing games in abundance, I guess today’s kids would find little need for tiny dolls you lose easily and can’t even get cute clothes for. Still, if I ever have a daughter, I intend to bring out my bin of Polly Pockets and let her create her own—
“No, honey, the school has to be next to the pizza shop and across town from the apartment buildings. Get it right.”
Sienna Golden Malik is a recent Washington University in St. Louis graduate from the Philadelphia area. She works in retail, and her interests include the Fair Trade movement, 20th century pop culture, and learning languages.