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Sunday, May 20, 2012


There were three types of girls in Detroit, where I grew up. 

First, there were the girls of no significance to this discussion, meaning the ones who didn't care for dolls at all.

Second came those who longed for Easy-Bake Ovens, Betsy Wetsies (a baby doll that peed), Chatty Cathies (that talked) or Ginny dolls, whose figures were as boring and flat-chested as our own. I suspect these girls saw themselves growing all the way up and getting married and having babies, like their moms. These were the girls, I assume, for whom Mattel created Barbie's Dream House and pink Corvette convertible, as if Barbie herself were not enough.

The third group, my group, was grossed out by babies and dreaded the prospect of motherhood and ovens and houses and cars and all things that put the "dull" in adult. We found our goddess in Barbie because she was about having fun, and she was pretty and had evening gowns (as did no one we knew in real life) and tiny bracelets and a different pair of high-heeled shoes for every outfit. But we'll get to her shoes in a minute.

I was 5 when she entered my consciousness via commercials during the "Mickey Mouse Club." My instant longing for her is the closest I've come to feeling a spiritual connection: Suddenly and desperately, I wanted a Barbie of my own -- and to be a teenager when I grew up. 

And 50 years later, if given the choice, I'd still like to be a teenager when I grow up.

My best friend, Roberta, was older, so she got her Barbie first. Hers was the classic -- a breathtakingly beautiful, blond, ponytailed Barbie. We lived in a neighborhood that was entirely Jewish and African American, where there wasn't a blond to be seen. So of course the exotic, blond, obviously Gentile Barbie was utter perfection -- as anyone but my mom understood.

My mother preferred short hair. Hers was a tidy, brown helmet. And as long as I was under her control, my own brown hair was vigorously maintained in a home-cut pixie. Neat and crisp and, above all, short.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when, on my 8th birthday, after three years of near-constant begging, the Barbie I finally got was the 1962 dark-haired doll with the (short, neat, crisp) bubble cut. The Jewish-looking one.

There are still people who persist in believing that girls should have dolls that reflect them, but they are wrong! Trust me, if you are a green, rashy Cyclops, you do not want a green, rashy Cyclops doll. You want a beautiful, blond, goyish, ponytailed Barbie so that in your green, rashy Cyclops imagination, you can be her!                                                    

Needless to say, I was devastated.
And then, just as I was learning to love my decidedly inferior Barbie, her left foot was gnawed off by Ralph, our dog.

Those were difficult times, emotionally. I wrestled with issues of unconditional versus conditional love, of guilt versus anger. I believe that was when I learned to sigh.

My daughter and her friends grew up with heaps of Barbies, which they often left naked and abandoned with the dirty socks and dust bunnies under the bed, their heads twisted impossibly, arms and legs in agonizing positions. But back in my day, at least in my world, no one owned multiple Barbies. You had your Barbie; she was sacred; you loved her. Period. The end.

So, while Roberta's Barbie tossed her silky blond ponytail and stood propped against the wall wearing two shoes, mine toppled with her empty pant leg flapping. There were no Barbie wheelchairs. There were no Barbie crutches or prosthetic devices other than crunched-up tinfoil, which, even to a wildly imaginative kid, didn't look so hot.

Nonetheless, we spent countless magnificent hours playing pretend, my Barbie and I, dressing and undressing, preparing for dates, or prison breaks, or terrifying adventures in the yard. She was always game and uncomplaining, willing to have a go at even the most perilous or romantic plans.

She was a great pal, inspite of her tiny waste, her missing foot, her gigantic boobs. That's why I wish all the anti-Barbie grown-ups would stop judging her by her looks! I mean really, who among us has had successful careers as a pilot, pediatrician, flight attendant, astronaut, veterinarian, lifeguard, firefighter, cowgirl, teacher and, most important, teenage fashion model, appeared in many books and videos and controversies, and had their portait painted by Andy Warhol? 

And whereas most of us would fetch much less on the open market than we used to, an original Barbie, which sold for $3 back in 1959, now commands up to 8,000 bucks. But that's not why I wish my beautiful, short-haired, one footed Barbie was here today. I just wish I could see her again, catch up after all these years, hang for a while, maybe play the Barbie Queen of the Prom board Game, one more time! 

xo Amy

P.S. This is a re-worked version of an LA Times piece I wrote in honor of Barbie's 50th birthday March 9, 2009.


Amy Goldman Koss said...

Comments are back!

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Are you still "grossed out by babies and dreaded the prospect of motherhood and ovens and houses and cars..."?
Action Figure

Amy Goldman Koss said...

Yes, Action figure, although I have indeed survived.

Unknown said...