October 29, 2009

Anything She Wanted

I was born on October 1, 1960. Barbara Millicent Roberts – better known to billions as, merely, "Barbie" – was born on March 9, 1959. Although little more than eighteen months separate us, she emerged – like Athena from the forehead of Zeus – fully grown, and I have spent my entire life trying to catch up. When I was learning to walk, she was tripping the light fantastic in color-coordinated pumps and strappy sandals. When I was dealing with pimples and adolescent angst, she smiled, clear-skinned and unconcerned. You might say that when I married, at thirty-eight, I finally lapped her, since she, despite a long and sometimes turbulent relationship with Ken, has not. But she has far outstripped me on the career track.

I have never been a vet, an actress, a teacher, a model or a flight attendant. I have never been a member of any of the armed services, let alone all four of them. (I’m not entirely sure she hasn’t served in other countries, as well.) I have not been a lawyer, though I considered it for a while in college. ("You’re too sensitive to be a lawyer/social worker/actress," my father said.) I was not athletic enough to be a circus star, a ballerina, an Olympic skater. I will never go to space. I have never run for president.

It would never have occurred to me that I could be president. (Or vice-president.)

But Barbie, she could be anything she wanted.

You can bet that Barbie’s mother never told her to pipe down or shut up, that she was too sensitive, or that she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and today Rock Star Barbie comes with glitz and glitter and her own microphone, with boas and feathers and high-heeled boots, with sequins and a confident smile – all standard, and yours for only $9.99. Would that real-life Barbie-wannabes and the Barbaras who will never be Barbies could so easily purchase Barbie’s confidence. For does she really have talent, or does she possess, instead, belief?

In the Road Runner cartoons, Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff and is suspended in midair by the lack of awareness that what he’s doing is impossible. Urban myth would have us believe that, according to the principles of aerodynamics, bumblebees cannot fly, and yet they do. If bumblebees looked down, would they fall to the grass with little thuds, starving to death so close to the nectar that sustains them?

If never told that we couldn’t fly, would we Barbaras also soar freely?

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