|Barbie in better days|
“Here—these have been in my hall closet for 35 years,” my mother said as she walked into my house and thrust two ragged vinyl cases into my unsuspecting hands. There was a familiar feel to them, and as she walked towards my kitchen, I lifted one of the cases closer to my failing eyes. I focused on the familiar script scrolled across the flamingo pink case – BARBIE.
For some reason the moment became awkward; like unexpectedly meeting an old flame and pretending that you meant to leave the house without wearing a bra because you believe that your breasts are up for the challenge.
I shoved them (the vinyl cases, not my boobs, although there was an iffy moment) underneath my son’s train table and decided not to think of the implications of having a forty-something year old Barbie living with me under my roof. Let’s face it—at seven Barbie presented our un-formed bodies and ego with endless possibilities which is why we played with her for hours. At forty-something, Barbie is a reminder of all I never achieved--a camper, plane, or cruise ship with my name on it; breasts that never needed a bra; no back fat; a high-arch from wearing heels to the moon and the beach; a pose-able body; and an androgynous boyfriend (no, wait—I had one of those in college).
Those cases sat hidden beneath the train table for weeks. I felt compelled to wait until I was alone to open them. Truth be told, I knew how the last 35 years treated me; I was afraid to see how they treated Barbie. I chose to open the Barbie Dream House case first. I was startled by the familiar fragrance--piquant plastic with just a hint of toxicity so evocative of everything 1970’s. I remember the Christmas morning The Dream House case sat sparkling new beneath the artificial tree. I was beside myself with joy because unlike the standard Barbie cases, The Dream House case came with drawers for Barbie’s clothes and two Murphy beds—you know, for when Barbie had those fabulous all-girl sleepovers! She slept in the camper whenever G.I. Joe visited.
Hanging onto the memory of that Christmas morning I opened the Dream House door and…OH! The horror! The horror! The years had not been kind to my beloved Barbie. Shrouded by a pile of knotted clothes, I found Barbie. She was missing an arm, and had a gaping bald spot. However, even in her amputated state Barbie oozed that haughty deluded “You can only dream you were me” attitude. When I opened her dream drawers I half expected to find a collection of empty bottles of Prozac and Jack Daniels buried beneath her pastel string bikinis and matching kerchiefs.
My mother had thought that my Barbie collection might be worth something; sadly they held value only to those who collected “Crack Whore Barbie.” Was it the free love 70’s, or the boom-boom 80’s, or never being able to walk flat-footed that ultimately broke Barbie? Perhaps it was her sexless relationship with Ken—I mean, Mattel may have given him mod hair, but they gave him nothing down there.
Was Barbie’s sad condition just a product of her being overworked? Her career(s) really took off in the ‘80’s—she was a teacher, an astronaut, a roller-boogier, an aerobics instructor, a veterinarian, a doctor, a rock star…could she realistically maintain that workload without a little help from her friends? (Wait, am I talking about Barbie or me?)
Almost like a premonition of their future divorce, I had stored Ken in the other case. The years had been kinder to him, but the glue from his 1973 mod hair left a permanent sticky, icky five-o’clock shadow and his plaid sports coat seemed grossly dated. Although I must say, his plastic Birkenstocks seem so today. Mattel discontinued Ken (read: divorce) and I always thought that Barbie preferred the roughness of G.I. Joe (read: penis) ergo their camper sleepovers.
Stuffed into the case with Ken were Barbie’s friends, Midge and Francie. The way they were all tangled together it might have looked like a sick orgy, but they were worse off than Barbie—legless and naked, and let’s be real—Ken’s Birkenstocks don’t exactly scream orgy. At least not with Midge and Francie.
I decided Barbie and her friends desperately needed a Bratz intervention. Of all the housewives, my Barbie’s were the most desperate of all. The Bratz girls could introduce Barbie and her friends to Crazy Glue, Rogaine, Botox, more natural looking implants, and martinis. In exchange Barbie could teach the Bratz girls the merits of working rather than “working it”. My girlfriend suggested that a better solution would be to send one of the American Girls over to the Dream House, but with the way my Barbie dolls looked, the American Girls would need serious therapy! And just wait until those American Girls hit puberty.
I closed the cases and looked around at my own dream house. The paint is peeling from where the tub leaked into the dining room, baskets of laundry are waiting to be ironed, and my Mod Hair Ken is just happy to have any hair, mod or not. 35 years later, I finally looked better than my Barbie, but I wouldn’t mind a Bratz intervention – or a martini – right about now! But that’s just this American Girl’s opinion.