all of the selves we Have ever been
Never Underestimate Barbie
Barbie turned 61 in March.
She doesn’t look a day over 20. Borrowing a quote from The Lilac Girls, “Somewhere in the corner of our hearts we are always twenty.” Way to go, Barbie!
Barbie has an impressive resume. She started life on March 9, 1959 as a fashion doll, but she has been everything from a teacher to an astronaut to a
Supreme Court justice. Despite her figure and impressive credentials, I just can’t hate her. I know some feminists have taken Barbie to task for her impossible figure, but I never understood the hostility.
When I was a child, all of the important women in my life were smart, strong, assertive, brown-eyed, olive-skinned, and full-figured. Barbie bore no resemblance to any of my real life female role models. That’s what made her so wonderful. My imagination was not limited to the personalities or life stories playing out in my family. Anything was possible. I give Barbie a lot of the credit for moving my generation of girls to take the SATs, apply for college, and enter the worlds of business and science. And learn to drive (though few of us ever got the longed-for pink convertible).
I spent a significant portion of my childhood playing with Barbie, creating roles, stories, costumes, accessories, and scenery. I waited impatiently for the beautiful hand-sewn clothes my paternal grandmother made and mailed to me from New York City. When not in school, my sister and cousin would join me in building a Barbie world on my Sita’s sun porch or tucked away behind the living room couch. I have a lot of regrets in my life, but none of them involve a moment spent with Barbie.
Barbie is a gal for all seasons. She is continuously remaking herself. While Ken is her steady guy, Barbie is in the driver’s seat of her own life. That’s why I expect to see a new version of Barbie this holiday season—Pandemic Barbie. She will come with a face mask and full PPE which she will make look fashionable in her open-toed, high-heeled shoes. Ever the wise and helpful woman, Barbie will come with a tiny portable ventilator. (Barbie knows that little girls love accessories.)
Barbie will renovate her Dream House to include a home office. She will come with a tiny laptop computer and a brochure covering how to host a Zoom meeting. (More accessories!) For self-care, Barbie will meet her best friend, Midge, for an early morning bike ride each day. While Barbie is saving the world from the pandemic, and renovating her home, she will likely be the one to homeschool her little sister, Skipper. Woman that she is, Barbie will still make time for Ken whose only career has been as boyfriend to Barbie, save for a long stint as beach bum. He may be eligible for a stimulus check if the pandemic and social distancing have kept him away from the waves. No problem. Barbie will help him apply from her new home office. Too bad that Barbie was not appointed to serve on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, we’d be done with this pandemic by now.
It is hard to believe, but back in 1959, the male executives at Mattel tried to convince Ruth Handler, Barbie’s mother, that the doll would never sell. All little girls wanted baby dolls and to be mommies the men said. Oops! First lesson learned: never underestimate Barbie. Mattel has sold more than one billion versions of the doll. Andy Warhol even painted Barbie’s portrait.
Does anyone know the name of a single Mattel executive?
Well, except for Barbie that is. She has them all on speed dial.
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