Thursday, June 9, 2016

Boldly Going Barbie

A couple of days ago, Matel announced that they'll soon be putting out a whole line of Star Trek themed Barbies

I'm in my early thirties now. Which means that, bafflingly, everyone I know seems to be having children. I end up being dragged into a lot of conversations about child rearing and one of the most common, off-hand thing I hear is, "Well, if it's a girl, we're not going to let her play with barbies." And everyone nods (I imagine they nod, I only talk to people via a keyboard) approvingly, as if not letting your child play with barbies is the same thing as not letting your child play with rusty nails or lighter fluid.

I realize that Barbies can still or could have contributed to a lot of self-image issues--though this is something Mattel is trying to change. The Barbie we all still picture, though, is impossibly thin, impossibly busty, with legs like a gazelle and feet like a grotesque human-rabbit hybrid. She is perpetually tan with a tiny nose and huge, Disney Princess eyes. She never leaves the house (to go to her job as a surgeon or astronaut or veterinarian) without makeup. I grew up in the 90s era of Barbie doll and, yes, I had self image issues. Whether that was because of Barbie or because of my dad's gibes at my mom's "thunder thighs" (a trait I inherited and proudly own) I don't know. But I had Barbies. I had a bunch of Barbies. And I loved them, literally, to pieces.

Here are some facts about me and my Barbies:

1- I don't remember not loving Barbie. The first one I remember getting, I was five years old. I think she was a Malibu Skipper doll.

2- I never used a pacifier or sucked my thumb as a child but I did (and still do) tend to stick stuff in my mouth. So, of course, I used to chew up my Barbie's feet. They were, as a rule, completely mangled.

3- Once, I left my 2nd favorite Barbie on the radiator and her legs melted.

4- I love androgyny (Is that a thing you can love? I hope I'm not being offensive.) Men's clothes dominate my wardrobe and I hold Tilda Swinton and David Bowie as my fashion icons. I'm fascinated by all kinds of gender fluidity or modes of gender outside the traditional norms. Anyway, when I was a kid, and first learned about drag queens (at the time I heard the phrase "transvestite") from my seriously awesome, wry, liberal god-mother, I loved the whole concept. I dressed one of my Ken dolls in a tube top and neon mini skirt and gave "Transvestite Ken" to said god-mother as a gift. She still has them.

5- I used to stash my Barbies in a little green suitcase at night. Locked. Under my bed. Not because I was worried about night-time fashion doll thievery but because I was worried they might come to life and attack me.

6- I had a video game on my dad's Commodore 64 wherein Barbie arranged a date with Ken then drove to various shops (side scroll style) to get ready before the ever-changeable Ken would inevitably call and say, "Wanna play tennis instead?" and then Barbie would hit the road again.

7- I built huge houses for my Barbies out of cardboard boxes and anyone I met (child or adult) was forced to come and see my (always dangerously close to toppling) homemade palaces.

8- After Hurricane Hugo decimated my state, my town, my street, a picture of me appeared in the newspaper navigating the wreckage in my Barbie Jeep.

9- I held onto my Barbies through a ton of moves. I changed schools thirteen times before high school. Each move, my Barbies went with me. In that old green suitcase.

10- I got a Barbie dream house for my 7th birthday and I distinctly remember my dad sitting on the floor in the living room, snapping the fiddly pieces together. My parents suddenly split up two weeks later and I never saw that dream house again.

You might wonder where all of my Barbies are now. As far as I know, my mom still has that old green suit case wedged into a closet somewhere. It's still packed full of 90's era Barbie Dolls. But there's one absent. My favorite one. She was a Midge doll with long auburn hair. Her head/neck connector knob broke so I always just crammed her head back on with unflattering effect. She went with me all the way through middle school, all the way through high school. And, at some point while I was in college, she got left behind. She's probably in a box of my stuff in the back of a closet at my dad's house.

You might wonder whether I'd want those Star Trek Barbies. No. Not really. I don't like having things I won't use. Things that exist merely for display. And I don't play with Barbies anymore. As much as I love that Uhura doll, she would likely just end up (still in the box) in a trunk somewhere. But, man, I'd give just about anything to see my old Midge doll again. That girl saw me through a lot. And, I don't recall her, with her smushed down head and chewed up feet, ever judging me about my cup size or my thunder thighs or putting ideas in my head about impossible beauty standards. She was just... there. And now she's not.


  1. I also chewed up the feet and legs of my Barbies until their "bones" would come out. I remember several occasions of having to push those things back in. I had a Brooke Shields Barbie that I cut off all the hair of and made her Barbie's new boyfriend.


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