December 12, 2009

Is It True that Blondes Have More Fun?

Barbie takes a lot of heat for creating unrealistic ideas in little girls, particularly for her impossible-to-humanly-achieve measurements (approximately 39-18-33). Maybe there’s some truth to that, but frankly, I think there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Take fairy tales, for instance, which left me anticipating the arrival of a handsome, white-steed-mounted prince, who would swoop into my humdrum life with magical kisses and the conviction of love at first sight. Or what about all those commercials promoting bouncy, shiny hair as the way to a man’s heart? Bouncy, shiny, terrific-smelling hair. Bouncy, shiny, terrific-smelling blonde hair.


Summer in Detroit, late 1960s. I was at Molly’s house, next door. We wore lightweight shorts and sleeveless blouses, scoop necked, tucked in. Socks and round-toed play shoes. Little kid clothes. We might have been seven and eight. While Molly and I played Barbies on her porch, a tall concrete stoop guarded by boxwoods that were no higher than the stoop itself, but wide, wide – so wide that when we jumped over them from the height of the stoop, we risked landing on their trunks and damaging the genitals whose intended purpose we didn’t yet know – my brother and David-from-three-doors-down lurked in the bushes with their G.I. Joe action figures, spying on the enemy (us) and pretending to blow things up.

Tiring of our pretend "boyfriends" (my doll had a long-term fantasy fling with Davy Jones of the Monkees), Molly and I begged the boys to play Barbie and G.I. Joe (or boyfriend/girlfriend) with us. My brother, Bryan, two years younger than me, refused. David, my age, the next-to-youngest of thirteen children and perhaps more mature sexually and more aware of the possibilities of pre-sexual play than Bryan, was at least willing to entertain our pleas. I didn’t really want to play Barbie and G.I. Joe with Bryan, anyway, but we needed two boys. Bryan would pair up with Molly, leaving David for me.

Now, I have to say that I did not then, nor did I ever, have a crush on David. Throughout my life I have had crushes on boys in my class, boys at church, boys I merely saw across the cafeteria without ever knowing their names, TV characters, co-workers, friends, my brother’s friends, and even a cousin. I know from crushes, okay? So I think I am not being disingenuous when I say that although I liked David, I did not like him like him. Still, there was more to playing Barbie and G.I. Joe than just play. This was some sort of practice for the real thing, and when Bryan opted out, leaving just one male to choose between two females, the stakes rose precipitously.

If Molly and I didn’t actually say, "Pick me, pick me!" it was certainly what we implied – and what we felt. It hurt when David declared that G.I. Joe would go out with/date/be the boyfriend of Molly’s doll. Molly – who was younger and less mature than me. Molly – who pulled her pants to her ankles and then hopped about, laughing, until a parent came to spank her bare bottom and then drag her pants up and her into the house, not necessarily in that order. Molly – who never took part in our all-day-Saturday games of tag because she had to go to Temple and who was not, we agreed, missed. Molly? He wanted to be with Molly?

Because that’s how it felt. As if he had chosen her over me. And why? "Because blondes have more fun," he said. Molly herself was dark, but her Barbie was blonde. My doll, a Barbie wanna-be named Susie, had dull brown hair, like me. We were seven. Maybe eight. I doubt we knew what the good folks at Clairol meant by "more fun," but believe me when I say that I wasn’t having it.

December 2, 2009

The Pink Dress

The only time I ever stole, it was for Barbie. My family went, one Sunday afternoon, to visit our friends, the Beebees. They had moved from within Detroit’s city limits to a new, safer, antiseptic neighborhood in one of the suburbs, where all the houses looked alike and were set back the same exact distance from the clean cement streets where there were curbs but no sidewalks. The Beebees had one daughter, Debbie, a few years older than me. Debbie had long, dark brown hair, a blue bike that would one day be handed down to me (my first two-wheeler), and an extensive wardrobe for her Barbies. On the day of the theft, Debbie was really past the age when she found dolls amusing, but my family was there all afternoon and she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere else. Playing Barbies with me at least passed the time.

My eye went immediately to a doll clothed in a long, sleeveless dress a slightly darker pink than the inside of the big shell that my sister had told me you could hear the ocean in. The dress was plain, with no decoration beyond a small brown bow at the waist and a slightly flaring skirt that hit Barbie just above her trim ankles. My disappointment was deep, as deep as if I had witnessed the death of everything holy, when Debbie chose that doll to play with, plucking her casually from the pile of doll paraphernalia on her bedroom floor. Then, without even looking at the doll, Debbie unsnapped the halter strap and, in one careless motion, swept the dress from the doll’s body.

I scooped it up, almost before it could touch the ground. My trembling hands pressed the gorgeous confection to my heart. The pink material was soft beneath my fingers, soft and less slick than mass-manufactured Barbie clothes. It was also more elegant than many Barbie creations, although elegant was not a word I would have known to use then. With no sequins, spangles, or feathers, this was a dress I could imagine a real person wearing.

This was a dress I could imagine wearing.