November 24, 2009

She's Got Barbie Roberts Eyes

To the uninitiated, a Barbie is a Barbie. To see one is to see them all. Collectors know better, and can recite the subtle variations in features that distinguish Barbie #2 ("brunette or blonde ponytail, blue irises, curved eyebrows") from 1967’s Twist N Turn Barbie ("bendable legs, twist waist, rooted eyelashes"). Other variations include eye shadow and lip color, and painted versus rooted eyelashes. Aside from iris color (Barbie #3 was the first to have colored irises), though, the eyes themselves remained the same.

But in 1971, twelve years after her introduction, Mattel made a more dramatic change to Barbie’s face – her eyes would now face forward, a change from her original more "demure sideways glance."

Demure? Really?

The original Barbie’s eyes are not demure. They are coy, sneaky, and just a touch contemptuous. "You think I’m the plaything," she seems to be saying, "but I’m the one in charge. Wait and see."

Desperately Seeking Curls

I have spent my entire life – nearly five decades now – looking in the mirror and seeing what isn’t there. The ears that went unpierced, for example, because my mother wouldn’t give her permission and Leggett – the downtown department store that in the ’70s was the only place to get one’s ears pierced in my hometown – required parental permission for anyone under sixteen. I felt the sting of intact earlobes whenever my friends exchanged earrings for birthdays and at Christmas. "You’d look so cute with pierced ears," they’d say, and "Your mother doesn’t let you wear make-up?" for that was something else I never saw in the mirror.

In junior high, a girl in my PE class, a girl I didn’t even know, asked to borrow my eyebrow pencil. (Her brow color had apparently evaporated due to the rigors of badminton or volleyball or square dancing.) "I don’t wear eyebrow color," I had to say, thinking, "But I wear the shame of its lack every day."

November 12, 2009

Barbie, Beautiful Barbie

If you've read my profile, you know that I am working on a collection of essays about childhood and adolescence, called Never a Barbie. My aim is to update this blog once a week with Barbie bits and pieces that have not yet found a home in the longer works, but yesterday I ran across Barbie's first television commercial on You Tube, and just had to share. (Thanks to Barbie Collectors for posting.)

Last week I said that little girls were conditioned to identify with Barbie. Note the lyrics that follow the sales pitch:

Someday I'm gonna be exactly like you
'til then I know just what I'll do
Barbie, beautiful Barbie
I'll make believe that I am you.

I rest my case.

November 10, 2009

My Own Two Feet

I always wanted to have Barbie’s feet.

Well, okay, maybe not the wires that run from her heels to her thighs and allow her knees to bend with that clickclickclick clickclickclick so dear to a child’s ear. When it comes to the inner workings of our legs and feet, I clearly got the better deal.

Ah, but the shape of them: slender, high-arched, delicate – while I tromp around on Fred Flintstone feet: flat, fat and with no discernible taper between calf and ankle. My feet always worked, and for that I am grateful, but transportation aside, they did little for me and certainly seemed to go out of their way to scuttle my desire to attain the twin pinnacles of adolescence – beauty and popularity.

When I was a kid, my shoe choices were limited not just by income (low to middle) and size (short and wide) but by my mother’s insistence that I was allergic to rubber. I’m not sure exactly what was this based on, except that the elastic in her bras made her itch and left deep red grooves in her white flesh each night. She said, "You’re allergic to rubber, just like me." So the allergic to rubber thing was always there – sort of like my little brother. If there was a time in my life when either of them didn’t exist, I don’t remember it.

November 6, 2009

Just Like Barbie

Just so you know: I am no conspiracy theorist. I fully believe that six million died in the Holocaust, that the photos of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon on September 11 were not staged, and that – through the miracle of then-modern technology and the generosity of a neighbor with color TV – I witnessed one giant step for mankind. I have no opinion on whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I don’t believe that H1N1 is an attempt by PETA, anti-immigrationists, anti-Catholics, or the manufacturers of surgical masks to further their goals, and I don’t believe that the conversion to digital TV is part of some massive government plot to control our thoughts.

But I do believe that little girls are programmed – or at least conditioned – to identify with Barbie.

That was, from the very beginning, the whole point.