We Boomers have contributed significantly to civilization: rock ‘n roll music, acid washed jeans, Woodstock, and a cultural icon far more long-lasting and influential than Bob Dylan. Her name is Barbie.
For anyone who has suddenly awakened from a Rip Van Winkle snooze that began on or before March 9, 1959, Barbie is a hard plastic doll that has shaped (or blighted) all our lives. Barbie is “the hottest 55-year-old on the planet” —in 2014, a Barbie doll was being purchased every three seconds somewhere in the 150 countries where they are sold.”
A friend once told me that “three moves is as good as a fire.” I’ve lost the favorite DVDs, and irreplaceable family photographs that I packed for the last move, (although I still have most of my shoe collection). The book that followed me around through divorce, involuntary downsizing and relocation was Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll–until I finally picked it up and read it.
I was riveted, fascinated, and thoroughly creeped out–when I wasn’t laughing out loud.
It’s even creepier to google Barbie, and find out that there is a Human Barbie–Valeria Lukyanova— who claims to be “naturally slender” and who is attempting Breatharianism (living on light and air). There is an accusation that Valeria, the Human Barbie photo shops her “abs pics,” for which she has a facile explanation that blames the “jealousy and envy” of unhappy un-Barbie-like people.
Ten times creepier is the “human Ken”—(who wants to look like a castrated underachiever plastic doll who has held over forty professions in fifty years?)– Human Ken Doll Justin Jedilca, who is now being “overtaken” by a new Human Ken Doll, Rodrigo Alves–as if one Human Ken Doll were not more than enough. Since Ken possesses no genitals, one wonders just how many surgeries these men have undergone to emulate their tiny plastic hero.
It’s easy to be a Barbie-basher—you can always get in a cheap shot at the only female Boomer who has completely conquered the world while being inanimate and only 11.5 inches tall. Not even powerhouse female Boomers like Madonna or Oprah Winfrey can claim as much.
I realize that I have completely failed to acknowledge my Boomer sister, Barbie, and her influence on my life. I am making this admission only in the safety of my own blog, L.I.L. (If this soul-baring confession goes viral, what’s a girl to do)? I never owned a Barbie. There, I’ve said it. No wonder my life has gone the way it has, and I have not yet found my Ken.
The only time I gingerly played with Barbie was at Kathleen Novak’s Philadelphia brick row house in fifth grade. Kathleen wanted to make Linda Sugarman jealous, so she gave me her friendship ring for a month and showed off her plastic Barbie puppet theater to me until Linda came around.
My parents were well into middle age when they produced me, and had been committed leftists (later rebranded “progressives”) since their early twenties. They had no use for dolls in general, or Barbie in particular. I was a Red Diaper Baby. If they had given me any dolls resembling adults, it would have been a Papa Joe Stalin doll—complete with a supporting cast of dolls to interrogate, accuse of political incorrectness, and execute by firing squad. Instead of a dollhouse, I would have gotten a plastic Siberian work camp.
Or maybe not. Although my parents distrusted every syllable of every word in the corrupt capitalist press—the New York Times as well as the Wall Street Journal—they were as naïve as babes in the wood about their ideological heroes. They didn’t want to believe Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin’s massacres –a conservative guess is 20 million non-combatant “unnatural deaths”
So there was I, a Boomer girl child, blessedly free of Barbie and any invidious comparisons between my lumpy childhood self and her plastic beauty ideal.
But was I? My leftist, intellectual, community organizer/teacher mother was obsessed with my weight. Not in any useful way—like cooking healthy meals or exercising together—but as a politically incorrect crime I was committing against the proletariat. No social-climbing, country club parent could have been more offended by fat. She dragged me to a “weight specialist”—a scowling man whose left eye twitched—who yelled at me and told me that no one would ever love me and I would never be invited to the Senior Prom.
One time we were in the waiting room, where the inquisitor’s wife, an unfairly fleshy woman clad in black, weighed all the child culprits in public. Two women—mother and grandmother—emerged from the “weight specialist”‘s office, dragging a sobbing eight-year-old boy between them, like executioners on their way to the guillotine. They had discovered that he was hiding candy in his room; the weight doctor had staged an “intervention.”
Another time, my progressive parent refused to walk on the same side of the street as me because of my weight.
Although she dressed me in Sears Bargain Basement navy blue jumpers that made me look like a student in uniform at the local parochial school, she once took me to buy a dress on the third floor. The saleslady was so distressed by my mother’s disgust that she spoke in my defense. “This child at least has a neck,” she said. “I see children with no neck.”
If I actually had had a Barbie doll, maybe she could have taught me to be the star of my own show. At least I could have dismembered her, befriended her, or invented my own cathartic scenarios with her, like the thousands of children that Mattel has studied for product information.
A boomer friend recently schlepped me to hear a feminist singing group, all boomer women. They did a refrain about models and advertising. “Oh, please don’t make me hate my body,” they warbled pathetically.
Barbie, the world’s most successful female boomer, would have stamped her permanently pointed foot in sheer frustration at their powerlessness. Barbie never begs a break from her environment–she just changes her clothes and she goes from rock star to brain surgeon faster than Clark Kent and Superman. She’s always had Ken right where she wants him. There’s a lesson here for all of us. I’m just still trying to figure out what it is.