Friday, August 6, 2010
Big Bad Barbie
My friend, YA writer Melissa Wyatt, sent me the early reader BARBIE GOES TO A PARTY (pictured left) knowing how much I adore that doll. As it happens, Melissa owned the same book when she was a kid and loved it. (Incidentally, she grew up to be an accomplished doll maker herself.) The gist of the book is, what will Barbie wear to the party? She tries on outfits for her mom, then decides. That's it. No message except, perhaps, that wherever one goes, choosing the right ensemble is the first priority. And that's bad. Right?
The current prevailing notion is that Barbie is a harmful influence on little girls. She's fluffy, inconsequential, vain, and silly. Her measurements are distorted. She's an advertisement for body dysmorphic disorder. Some women my age (old) claim that they never loved her! They disdained the tiny open-toed stilletos, the strapless evening gowns, the fur-collared boleros, white cat-eye sunglasses, zebra-striped swim suit, tight capris with filmy cocktail coat, the winged stewardess cap and exquisitely detailed flight bag! I could go on about my favorites and the bumpety-bump my heart made when I dressed my titian-haired bubble head Barbie in them. But that would be wrong.
Here's what made Barbie fabulous to me: 1. She was forbidden by mother for all the forward-thinking, female-empowering reasons listed above. It wasn't until I was taken to the hospital for a nasty tear on my mouth that my parents relented. Bleeding as I passed a little display case featuring a Barbie nurse and Dr. Ken, I thrust my hand out and whispered, "Barbie! Barbie!" as best as I could with a torn lip. The next day, my dad brought her home to me for being brave and enduring the stitches. I declared it was the HAPPIEST day of my LIFE! If I'd known that all it took was a facial injury to get my hands on that beautiful doll, why I would have fallen off the fence ages ago.
2. Barbie's fabulousness spoke to my heart. I was living in a shoebox house in a little rainy lumber town in southern Oregon. My mother, a gorgeous woman, had four kids under the age of 6 and an extremely limited budget that went largely to pay for our out-of-pocket antibiotics, stitches and casts. Barbie spoke to me of a possibly more glamorous future. She was my fantasy, and I was passionate about her--as, I'm sure, were many little boys who dared-not-speak-her-name. (You'll find them competing on Project Runway.)
To this day, I love fashion. It is a spectator sport for me, but no less pleasurable for that. When I see her old clothes on ebay, I feel the same glow that I felt back in the days of the New Frontier! I'm partial to the old Barbie--the one who wore a ton of eye makeup and didn't smile so much. But I won't despair for any little girl who adores her today.
Just don't get me started on Bratz...