Saturday, January 1, 2011

In Defense of Barbie

Recently, I lost myself in the Barbie Exhibit at the Indianapolis Children's Museum. As soon as I hit the entrance I was swept into to all the good feelings of my childhood. As my three year old daughter busied herself at the Barbie reception desk and spoke on the Barbie princess phone, I could hardly wait to run ahead and take in all the sights.

There were life size Barbies in gowns, Barbies in haute couture by designers like Vera Wang and Bob Mackie. She wore an elaborate get-up with a mermaid tail that would fit right in at a Miss. World Pageant. Barbie represented every decade. She apparently ran for President and was a Soccer Star. Barbie was there in every version a grown woman, er little girl desired.

My husband sat in a corner of the exhibit waiting patiently with a rueful grin as I ran around with a smile from ear to ear. He doesn't like Barbie. He'd rather not have his daughters play with her because he believes she upholds an impossible ideal that makes girls hate their own appearance.

Granted if the original 1959 Barbie were real, her measurements would have been 39-18-33. Poor thing would have cracked in two. Mattel has since adjusted the measurements but I'm certain her traits aren't anywhere near the plus size region. Ooh, Plus Size Barbie! I like it. They did have the Rosie O'Donnell Barbie for a minute. That was progress, right?

Unlike my husband, I want our daughters to play with Barbie. When he protests, I argue that I played with her and turned out just fine. (Insert his joke here.) I tell him it never bothered me that I didn't look like a doll who was 11.5 inches tall. Besides being average height, my skin is black, my hair was in pigtails, and I wore glasses. I didn't want to look like any of my dolls; not even Black Barbie. Looking like Barbie wasn't the point of playing with Barbie. The point was to use my imagination. Barbie helped develop my creativity and sparked my desire to tell stories.

I created obstacles for her to overcome; triumphs and failures. I mixed and matched her outfits, and transformed the couch in my basement into a two story home by making the cushions the upstairs and the area in front of the couch the family room and kitchen. I could play Barbie for hours without ever thinking about turning on the television. I learned about focus and follow through.

I played with Barbie until the seventh grade; past the socially acceptable age in my neck of the woods. I was part of a secret society of girls. We were sort of like Fight Club. Rule #1--You did not speak about Barbie. A few key words and nods of the head helped us recognize each other in plain sight.

I am way, way, past my Barbie playing years but I want to thank her for always being there, never judging me, doing whatever I wanted, and making me very happy. No harm done here.

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