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Being Barbie

Growing up, I spent every summer away from home, in the sweltering land of Louisiana. There was little joy in the trip, but for one thing I had to look forward to: my mother always sent me with money to buy a new Barbie doll.

I looked forward to the shopping trip more than I can tell you. I was a young girl in a place she didn’t want to be, with no friends, and most of her books back home. Barbie was one thing that connected me to home and my good friend Darcy. I always wanted to get my Barbie on the first day and this didn’t usually happen.

Summer in Louisiana is a special kind of hell. I remember one summer, my shoes stuck to the parking lot as we crossed toward the toy store. But it didn’t matter, because Barbie was inside and when I held that pink box in my hands, that’s all there was. Hours of escape awaited me.

Now, it’s amusing-sad what that play entailed. Play was focused on that perfect golden hair, frothy dresses of glittery fabric, and those impossibly small shoes. Play was setting Barbie up to go out with Ken, and Darcy and I had only one Ken doll between us. This led to heartache.

Eventually, we gave our dolls to Darcy’s younger sister and moved on to other things — Atari was captivating. We could run through the jungle and leap over snapping crocodiles, we could dodge speeding traffic in the guise of a frog. Barbie would never manage that — in those tiny shoes? They would pop right off. (I find myself remembering one outfit I had for Barbie that never stayed on her breasts — the top constantly slid down, because it was too tiny for her, yet had been made for her.)

When the news came that an article in SFWA’s Bulletin (#201, Spring 2013) suggested we be like Barbie, my eyebrows shot up. That cannot be, I thought, because didn’t we just go through something similar with the content of issues #199 and #200? “Lady writers” and editors being extolled for how they look in bathing suits rather than their editing abilities.

But, it was so! C.J. Henderson tells us we should be like Barbie–in fact, that: “She has always been a role model for young girls, and has remained popular with millions of them throughout their entire lives, because she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.”

Holy wow. Betsy Dornbusch has a lot of smart things to say if you follow that link. As does Carrie Cunn here.

It’s 2013, and we’re still here. We’re still doing this. Why?

Barbie was never a role-model for me. Barbie was always science-fiction. Barbie was this mystical ideal I had been told I should want to be like. With that glorious waterfall of sleek hair (not the tousled dark brown mop I possessed), with those gleaming blue eyes (mine didn’t gleam so much), with those teeny, tiny feet (my shoes never popped off when I ran on Field Day).

On Thursday, Beth and I changed our Twitter avatars to wee Barbie faces. Plastic and pink and perfectly smiling. And every time I posted, I twitched. I saw that face, that face I had told I should want to be like, and the answer was still a resounding no. That may be someone’s ideal, but it’s not mine. This perfect face, this smiling mouth that never opens to utter a contrary word. This is not what a woman “should” be.

“If it’s good enough for Barbie, it’s good enough for you,” Henderson writes. And no. No. A thousand times no.

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