Palos Park Librarian Is a Barbie Girl At Heart
Barbies are a passion for collector Belinda Bylina.
Belinda Bylina has lost track of exactly how many Barbies she owns. Her collection is large enough to fill two rooms in her home, and she estimates her dolls hover around 1,000 strong.
When Bylina, the youth librarian at Palos Park Public Library, was a child she had a habit of losing her Barbies’ shoes. She didn't take particularly good care of them.
Flash-forward to the present day and Bylina takes a markedly different approach. For over 20 years she has collected Barbies and keeps up with more than just their shoes. Her dolls of choice? Barbie and her younger sister Kelly. In her home, the two sisters each have a room dedicated completely to them.
"I'll see little girls asking their moms to buy them a Barbie, and the mom will say, 'another doll? You have too many'. I'll say, 'Mom, you can never have too many dolls'," Bylina said with a laugh. "Then I'll tell them that I collect dolls, and the little girls' faces will light up. The mom gives in and buys them a doll sometimes."
Her fascination with Barbie really took off in 1989. Bylina joined the Windy City Doll Collector's Club in 1990, and has been a member of the Barbie Collector's Club for 12 years. At the height of her collecting, she says that she spent close to $500 a year on dolls. Anything she could find Barbie-themed, she purchased. From jewelry to coloring books, and puzzles to ornaments, you name it she bought it.
She has never sold any of her prized possessions.
"I buy them because I like them, not to sell them," she said. "I don't buy much anymore, though. They've changed the way they make them, and I'm very particular."
The economy has caused the Barbie industry to suffer, with resale prices plummeting in recent years. At the height of their popularity, select dolls were very hard to come by and prices could sky rocket.
Bylina's husband is also a collector and has a room dedicated to his own hobby--trains. She credits his support of her own hobby throughout the years. He would take her to stores in search of a particular doll that she wanted. Once Bylina outgrew her first Barbie room, her husband gave up his train room and swapped with her so she could have more space for her dolls.
The pair have also hosted two of the annual Kelly Konventions, put on by one of the collector's clubs that Bylina belongs to. The most recent convention, held this year, celebrated Kelly's birthday, with a Sweet 16 theme. There were workshops on how to curl the dolls' hair and an auction that helped raise $3,473 for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation.
When Bylina began collecting Kelly dolls in 1994, she realized that she enjoyed having customizable, one-of-a-kind dolls. She gets them made by a fellow Kelly fan in California who takes about three full days to repaint the face of the doll and hand-design her clothes.
Bylina even had a Kelly doll made to be a replica of her daughter on her wedding day. From the necklace around her neck to the glitter on the train of her dress, the doll was a perfect match.
"It brings back my childhood, keeps me young", Bylina said. "I love looking at the dolls. There's always something. You can't appreciate the doll just by looking at her one time. You keep looking and looking and you always find something new that strikes you."
Bylina's first Barbie doll was the Bubble Cut in 1961, named for the bubble cut style in her hair. Even as a child, she had a display of dolls that she would not take down.
Barbie is now in her 50s and her arm candy Ken turns the big 5-0 this year.
For many serious collectors like Bylina the dolls represent something more meaningful than just fashion and accessories.
"There used to be a slogan for Barbie. 'You can be anything you want, just like Barbie.’ They are coming out with a Barbie the architect. There's a policewoman, forewoman and even a Barbie the paleontologist. It shows that just because you're a girl, it doesn't mean you can't do those things," she said. "Barbie is an icon. So many people have played with Barbies. It's like Mickey Mouse. It's not a fad. She's an icon."