I admit it… I loved Barbie when I was a kid. I had the camper and the dream house with the elevator and the swimming pool with the orange inflatable pool chairs. And I had a giant plastic container that rolled under my bed and was filled with literally hundreds of wardrobe choices for my blond, tanned, top-heavy plastic friend.
Was Barbie was an ideal role model? Of course not!
But I might argue that while she came out of her Mattel box as a disturbing homage to a Playboy centerfold, she quickly morphed into the kick-ass ruler of a female dominated universe. My Barbie was a doctor and a lawyer and a veterinarian. She flew to the moon in a shoebox rocket, regularly parachuted off the veranda, and survived the bathtub sinking of her sailboat (twice!), keeping herself alive for several days on a bathmat island.
Barbie wasn’t just a pretty, albeit somewhat vacuous face. She was an indomitable force, ready and able to do much, much more than repeatedly marry Ken (although she did have seven wedding gowns so…).
I learned some important stuff from Barbie, like…
- Sneakers and boots are more practical than high heels. Even standing on her toes 24/7 Barbie couldn’t hold those damn shoes on her feet. She could wear stilettos when she was sitting in her dream house living room but she couldn’t even get into the elevator without at least one of them falling off. If Barbie was going anywhere, she had to dig out a pair of knee high boots or the white sneakers that came with her tennis ensemble. To this day, I travel in practical footwear. If I want to be seen in ‘hot’ shoes, I carry them to location in a grocery bag in my purse.
- Consider the consequences of your actions. Barbie lived in an unforgiving world where bad haircuts never grew out and temporary tattoos were permanent. In many ways, the real world is more flexible, but a ‘pixie cut’ is still a bitch to get rid of (just ask all those Hollywood Starlets who had them last year and are all trying to make bobby pins and barrettes look sexy now). And a hole in your nose won’t go away just because you take the earring out. Think it through, I say… think it through.
- Enjoy ‘down time’. Barbie loved being a doctor and a lawyer and a veterinarian, and she was a great mom to all the Barbie babies (except the one she forgot on the sailboat one fateful evening when the stopper got pulled out of the tub). But even in her uber-busy world, she still found time to stretch out on an orange inflatable pool chair now and then. And when she felt like having a nap, she would fall onto her blue plastic bed with the white, molded plastic pillow, cover up with a dishcloth comforter, and just let it all go for an hour or so, still wearing her evening gown and tiera. As I think about this, I wonder if Barbie may have had a drinking problem… just sayin’.
- It’s nice to have a man but it’s not necessary. Barbie kept all her Barbie babies well cared for with little support from Ken, who was often absent for weeks at a time. My dog liked to drag him off and he would be forgotten about until the vacuum eventually pulled him out from under a bed. It was clear that Barbie enjoyed Ken’s company, but when he wasn’t around (or when he was wearing just his swim trunks because his tuxedo was lost again) she still went to work, and to galas, and to outer space. And sometimes even when he was available and fully clothed, she left him in the dream house with the Barbie babies while she went camping with Malibu Skipper and the gang.
- Sometimes you have to improvise. When Barbie wanted to be an astronaut, she didn’t sit around waiting for the next Sears catalogue to come out, fingers crossed that space gear might suddenly appear as an option on the ‘Barbie accessories’ page. Instead, she started work on her shoebox spaceship… and an aluminum foil spacesuit. And when her sailboat sunk and left her stranded on Bathmat Island, she didn’t just sit there waiting to be rescued. No way! She immediately built a toilet paper tent and used a disposable razorblade to slice up some greens for a salad. Note: my mother may not have appreciated Barbie’s ingenuity since it did leave a hole in her green shag mat.
No woman is perfect. Not even Barbie, with her 100% symmetrical boobs. And we aren’t always going to succeed, especially in a world where the odds are often stacked against us. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying; or stop dreaming. Barbie taught me that.
This is brilliant, and yes you are quite right, Barbie taught us a lot, I also had Sandy dolls growing up a well Not as well known). I guess it is the individual who brings out the best in Barbie (or Sandy), she could only do what we imagined, so being an astronaut may not have been on every Barbie’s resume! I know my barbie was more into horses and commando gear and actually spent more time with my Brothers’ GI Joe than Ken, in fact I am not sure I had a Ken? My Barbie was probably more like Gi Jane, She never really attended Galas or Balls and funnily she never had any babies! But living with consequences, being practical, being comfortable, being independent were all values I think we learned.
My Barbie had a brief, passionate affair with GI Joe (who belonged to my neighbour’s son but landed in my Barbie collection through a trade involving a lot of Hubba Bubba bubblegum). Joe was clearly a rugged man and they shared a mutual love of parachuting off the verandah but it was not meant to be. Joe was ‘stolen’ back by the neighbour’s son. Sigh…. love and loss… even Barbie couldn’t avoid it.
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it happens to us all Kim
Great post. I think our dolls whether it be Barbie, Sindy, Sandy or whoever are only limited by the imagination of the owner. Your Barbie was clearly a resourceful gal.
She once battled an entire battalion of Red Rose tea porcelain figurines (once a ‘big thing’ here in Canada) and totally kicked ass!
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