As a recipient of one of the first Barbies to strut off the Matel assembly line, I take personally any criticism directed toward the diva of dolls. I never quite understood all the feminist hoopla about the unrealistic expectations her body communicated to young girls. As far as I’m concerned, the takeaway from Barbie isn’t her shapely physique but her composure. We could all learn lessons about ladylike conduct from this icon of elegance.
|When I first saw my
Barbie, I wasn't quite sure
what I had. I would soon
I received my Barbie as a Christmas gift from cousins back East, who obviously were more in the loop than we Texans. I didn’t even know who or what Barbie was when I opened the box. In fact, I thought she was a little strange in her black and white zebra-striped swimsuit and her severe ponytail and frizzy bangs. But when I showed her to a friend—who was more in the loop than I, so maybe this was less Texan than Dee Dee cluelessness—I was quickly informed of Barbie’s royalty status in the doll kingdom. And I was also informed that there were certain expectations to be met when it came to Barbie’s upkeep.
My poor Barbie must have thought
she’d been banished to fashion hell when she took up residence at our house. No
matter how much I requested, argued, begged, whined, my Barbie never possessed
more than three outfits—and that was counting the swimsuit. When I pleaded
Barbie’s case to Mama, she unreasonably insisted she wasn’t about to spend more
on a doll’s dress than she did on one of her own. So, for the time being,
Barbie and I had to give up on the little gold and white brocade ensemble with
the mink cuffs and matching mink hat. At the time, I think it retailed for
around $15, which translates to roughly $15,000 in today’s economy. But my
eleventh birthday was coming up, so I told Barbie not to disparage.
|Barbie and I had our hearts
set on this Evening Splendor
|We had to settle for
I discreetly hinted to all my friends that being it was late January, Barbie was getting cold in her swimsuit and not having anything warm to wear (like a jacket with mink cuffs and matching hat) was endangering her health. My friends’ mothers were apparently as selfish as mine. They were no more willing than my mom to shell out big bucks for a killer outfit so that Barbie could have a fun night on the town. Only one friend’s mother came through. Thanks to her, my Barbie could add a red velvet and white satin strapless cocktail dress to her attire. Through research, I happened to know that was the
least expensive of the Barbie ensembles, but Barbie and I weren’t in a position
to quibble. I thanked my friend profusely, and we quickly adorned Barbie in her
new “appropriate-for-any-occasion” outfit. While accessorizing her, we
discovered that when we tucked the gold vinyl clutch under her arm, the gold
finish rubbed off in her armpit. We labeled that residue “purse”peration, and
laughed uncontrollably. Never one to take herself too seriously, Barbie didn’t
resent our little joke at her expense. And her demure smile told us she
appreciated our razor-sharp wit.
Barbie never complained, but in my heart I knew she was growing weary of her sparse wardrobe. I mean, there’s a limit to how many swimming and cocktail parties a doll can attend. Once again I encouraged Barbie to take heart. My grandmother was coming for a visit. I was sure she’d be happy to whip up a few items for her.
I had no doubt my grandmother would come to Barbie's and my aid. And I must say, she was willing. But she, like me just a few months before, had no earthly idea who or what a Barbie was. I think when she agreed to help me make some “doll clothes,” she envisioned stitching up a couple of baby doll gowns out of my old flannel pajamas. When she saw the curvaceous Barbie and the scrap of green taffeta I produced for the first outfit, she was at a loss for both words and ideas. But being the loving woman she was, she doggedly tackled the task. With her stubby, arthritic fingers, she took needle and thread in hand and, with teeny-tiny stitches, fashioned yet another lovely strapless cocktail dress for Barbie. When she finished, Barbie truly had a bespoke garment. The problem was it was not only sewn specifically for her, it was also sewn on her and could be removed only with scissors. The frock would be worn either one time or permanently.
At that point, Barbie and I had a heart-to-heart.
“Babs, ol’ girl,” I said. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to spend some time in this dress. Either that or go back to the red-and-white number until next Christmas when I can make another pitch for you a decent wardrobe.”
This is where I want those of you who think Barbie an unfit role model to read carefully. She never flinched. Her plump, ruby-red lips never quivered. Her eyes glistened, but not so much as one tear smudged her blue eye shadow and heavy mascara. She simply raised her right hand in that elegant beauty-pageant wave and without a scene slipped into her special shoe box still wearing that green taffeta dress. She wasn’t giving up, but she knew how to accept defeat gracefully and return to fight another day. What a doll.