October 27, 2009

Don't Call Me Barbie

Don’t call me Barbie.

Of all the permutations of Barbara, it’s the one name I will not answer to. Call me Barb if you must, though if we don’t know each other well, I would prefer that you didn’t. I might respond to Babs—if it's offered with affection and humor—but I won’t come if you call me Barbie.

A boy whose name I’ve long forgotten called me Barbie on the playground one morning.

"Barbie, Barbie, Barbie, Barbara is a Barbie doll."

"Shut up! Don’t call me that, shut up."

He danced around me, just out of reach, singing, "Barbie, Barbie, Barbie." I stomped my foot. Shut up, shut up, shut up. He laughed and ran away when, fueled by a humiliated rage that scorched my memory, I charged at him, too young to realize that my violent response was fuel for his teasing—and that I was drawing more attention to myself by attempting to silence him.

I didn’t have the words in second grade to explain this terrible transgression to the teacher who asked what the boy had done. Gulping through shameful tears, I told her that he had called me Barbie.

"But that’s your name."

"No, my name is Barbara."

Even at the age of eight I hated the name Barbie.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to be Barbie.

Barbie had long shiny hair and long fancy dresses of pink and red, with matching heels and gloves that went all the way to her elbows. She drove her own car, a convertible, even, in the days when all the grownups I knew drove sedans and station wagons. She lived in her own house, where no one told her what to do. She could read all night if she wanted, but she never did. She was too busy going to plays and movies and out to dinner with Ken and all her other boyfriends.

She could be anything she wanted.

She was pretty.

All we had in common was a name.

Normally I didn’t mind when a boy teased me—when I was four, my older sister had told me that when a boy teased a girl it meant he liked her—but this was different. Even at the age of almost-eight, I knew I didn’t want to be compared to Barbie. But what I don’t know is this: was it because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was a shallow, clothes-obsessed bimbo? Or was it because, even at eight, I knew I would never have the allure, popularity or beauty of a teenage fashion doll?

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