Letter to...

My Old Barbies

We had lots of fun together despite the time I removed your lips and eyes

Dear Barbie,

What a bad rap you've gotten these past years, since we last played together. You've come to represent so many negative things: body image issues, vapidity, materialism. You've been subjected to studies, parodies, lawsuits, imitators (of both the human and doll variety) and unauthorized commercial use. But all of that is nothing compared to what you and I went through together back in the day, right?

I still remember how carefully I treated you when you first arrived. I obsessively brushed those long golden locks. I put outfits on you and whipped them right off. God, how I loved your teeny, tiny shoes. You had a horse and a fluffy dog and a dream house. It was the good life—for both of us.

But after a while, my young mind began to really study you. When your clothes came off, there was a lot to observe. That smooth plastic body. That impossibly tiny waist. Feet permanently arched into a high-heeled shape. Those long, shapely legs. That was what a leg should look like, I thought as a little girl, and I looked forward to outgrowing my knobby knees and sporting a set of gams like yours. That sloping torso, the perfect-sized breasts that pointed straight out. Thin arms, with no visible muscle tone. And of course, your oddly shaped crotch—just a vague, flat surface, with nary a hair in sight.

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The only hair you had was on your little head, and what glorious hair it was. Your glossy blonde cascade was perfect for brushing and braiding and twisting. It wasn't so perfect, however, when I washed it, which removed the luster and made it all dry. That was the beginning of the end of the worshipful period. Things between us were about to get real.

Some well-meaning relative gave me a Michael Jackson doll, and it was inevitable that you guys would have to play out what I had recently learned about the facts of life. You and MJ went at it like sex was going out of style. Even then, though, I suspected that your two hard plastic genitalia-less bodies, bumping away, and your rubbery faces smooshing up against each other while you "kissed" was not really going to prepare me for the true intricacies of sex, but it was fun nonetheless.

Then, Kimber Benton came into my life. That's right—Kimber of "Jem and the Holograms." With her scarlet hair, heavily made-up eyes and funky clothes, Kimber was cool and edgy. Kimber immediately replaced you in the King of Pop's affections, and maybe even in mine. I had a dozen Barbies, but only one Kimber.

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Which led to your eventual ... reinvention. Barbie, do you remember when I cut your hair and colored what was left of it with my mother's lipstick? I used markers to apply heavy makeup to your flawless skin. I cut your aerobics leotard to shreds to make it cooler. Then things got even more surreal. You became an alien with a green face, courtesy of a permanent Sharpie. I used papier-mâché to bind your legs together and turned you into a mermaid. Silly Putty became your pregnant belly, and you gave birth to a tiny plastic baby, the kind you get for twenty five cents at a party goods store.

I bent your legs too many times and you suffered a compound fracture—the wire that acted as your bones popped out of your knee. Ouch! I wanted to see what your head looked like on the inside and … well, there was only one way to find out. You got into fights and were in terrible accidents. I discovered food coloring, which looked exactly like blood, to dramatize your many calamities, and it left you pink-tinged. Nail polish remover took care of most of it, but also removed your lips and eyes. You were faceless. Um … sorry.

Then perhaps the worst thing happened (or the best, if you were growing weary of my beastly experiments)—I outgrew you.

Getting to know you and your misleading perfection was a rite of passage for me, and for millions of other girls. At first, we loved you. Then we tormented you. We grew up together or rather, I grew up and you lost your hair and your facial features. But Barbie, I'll always be very fond of you and I'll never forget you.

Tags: memoirs