Barbie Dolls; a story

A while back, when Barbie turned fifty, I contemplated putting together a “Blow off Barbie” fiftieth birthday bash collection of YA short fiction,  non-fiction and poetry, but I never quite got my act together.  I recently came across these handy comparions between Barbie dolls and real women and I  found myself remembering the complex mix of feelings Barbie churned up inside of me.

You might think I had it in for Barbie. Not so. I loved my two Barbie dolls when I was growing up.  They were among my prize  possessions. But, I recall one summer day one when I was about nine or ten and one of my friends flippantly commenting on extremely un-Barbie like physique.  Although these barbs (excuse the pun) were flung without intention to hurt, my friend had unknowingly hit the nail on the head. I was nothing like the ideal, and never would be. When puberty hit, I still didn’t measure up to the Barbie ideal. My figure was way out of style. Barbie’s was in. Back then, we didn’t know much about anorexia, but dieting was the new norm for most teenage girls in my social circle.  I was less than thrilled that my waist refused shrink to Barbiesque proportions and that my legs stopped growing.  The more Barbie like girls in my social circle were the ideal I could never reach. My waist was a whopping 24 inches back then; a number I’d be thrilled to measure down to now. My legs were muscular and nowhere near as long as some of my friends. And, my feet were anything but dainty. Unlike Barbie’s hair smooth sleek hair, mine was thick, prone to frizz, and decidedly not blond!  Since  my mother was against young girls wearing make-up, I was limited in my ability to emulate Barbie’s perfect eyes. To top it off, my “back to school wardrobe” consisted of Salvation Army thrift store purchases that also allowed my working-class parents to feed and house their large family. That was long before it became cool to shop for  “second hand treasure”  and “vintage” equaled old. My inability to come close to my childhood idol of perfection led me to turn my back on Barbie. Some of my friends were  not so fortunate, remaining trapped in the struggle to be attain the impossible.

I became an unintentional anti-Barbie champion and I harbored a deep seeded resentment of all that she stood for. It led me to reject the shallow message at the heart of Barbie; beauty buys happiness  This life -changing attitude shift  threw me into the arms the feminist and social justice movements.  The goal was to make the world a place of equality for all people; not just the pretty or rich ones. I am, in an odd way, grateful to Barbie for these life-altering changes.

Meanwhile, Barbie dolls grew in popularity with world wide sales that were the envy of the corporate world.  Then career Barbies began making an appearance: Astronaut Barbie, Doctor Barbie, and Pilot Barbie. The role model for little girls had upped her game.  Not only was she impossibly slender and beautiful, she was also super-human in her accomplishments.  Girls had even more to live up to. As a young mother, I was  hypersensitive to the pressures my young daughters might be under to conform to the unattainable.  I refused to purchase Barbies for my daughters.

Matel’s margeting strategy worked. Barbies were all my daughters wanted.  They begged me to buy them the dolls, the clothes, and the paraphernalia that went with them.  The parents of my children’s friends reported that my daughters played with the dolls obsessively when visiting.  But I was determined.  My children would not suffer the same burdens of inadequacy that I had had to bear. Anyone who knew me knew of my anti-Barbi feelings.

Then one Christmas morning, Barbie entered our home covertly. A large box wrapped in Christmas paper  arrived from one of my family members.  It was addressed to all three girls.  It never occurred to me that it would contain not one, or two, but three Barbie dolls. Once Pandora’s box had been opened, it was impossible to reseal. The girls were thrilled. I was worried.

It turns out I was a typically overprotective mom.  My girls were not overly  influenced by the Barbie mystique.  They incorporated Barbie into their play like any other toy. Barbie sand castles were built at the beach, complete with driftwood beds and seaweed blankets.  One of my girls proudly announced that she and her Barbie were twins after hacking off her doll’s hair to match the haircut her sister had given her the previous day. Barbies  sailed out of the playhouse in an effort to see which could fly farther. And they became the scary giants attacking Playmobile World. Years later, when I was about to sell the family home and downsize, I discovered the three dolls in a box with other toys.  One had had  her leg amputated due to a dog chewing incident.  Another sported a stubble haircut and blue ink tattoos.  Only one of the dolls had gone relatively unscathed.  I washed the sand from her hair and seaweed, dropped her, Tattoo Barbie, Amputee Barbie and some other toys and household items at a thrift store. I suspect they found new homes, and I hope that their experiences were more eclectic than their manufacturers had planned for them.

Barbie sales are down.  She’s losing her cache. It’s about time.

Now that I have a new grand daughter, I hope Barbies will be relegated to museums where they belong. If she asks me why the dolls have such long legs and such tiny feet, I’m not sure how I’ll reply.  Perhaps I’ll answer that it helps them fly farther.

I have other Barbie stories, which I may getting around to telling one  day…maybe for Barbie’s 60th, or maybe just for my little grand daughter’s amusement when she’s old enough to understand.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. patientdreamer
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 13:53:24

    Enjoyed this! I never had a Barbie doll, thankfully!

    Reply

  2. Dianne
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 10:08:58

    I wonder how Ken would stack up against “real” men. Probably a lot closer than Barbie does against “real” women, but it would be interesting to see.

    Reply

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