Barbie: feminist icon? Listening to her speak I think the answer must be, yes.
To all my Fans
My name is Barbie. You all know what I look like, so I don’t really need to describe myself, but I will, for the pleasure of it. I have a finger-width waist, wide blue eyes, shiny nylon American hair and I’m made of rigid plastic, all hard and smooth. Nothing moves. Nothing jiggles or wobbles, wrinkles or sags. My boobs always point forwards – no fried egg splurge when I lie down. Even upside down my curves stay just where they are. My arms and legs are slender and tapering. My feet are tiny and moulded for heels. Plastic mules are my favourites. I have them in white, yellow and pink. I like to wear them with tight pedal pushers or ball gowns. To get around I use a pink car or wedding carriage with a net canopy. My legs don’t bend which makes driving difficult, and sex. When the girl, Livvy, puts me and Ken in a boyfriend/girlfriend clinch, there’s some perfunctory groin rubbing. For hot sex I wait till later. Action Man has articulated limbs, so if I do a sort of scissor kick, we manage. I have a younger sister, Skipper, but no babies obviously. There’s no give in my stomach and Barbie doesn’t do maternity wear. If I had a mother she must have been a cloth-bellied pre-war type, or, I don’t even want to say this – I’ll spit it out quickly – a cabbage patch doll. The mushroom head, the ropey hair, the peg-bag chic. Why?
While I’m on the subject of mothers, that’s what I’m here for. I want to complain. This goes to all you mothers out there. You’re not bringing your daughters up properly. Livvy doesn’t play with me much, but when she does – picture the scene:
‘Barbie, Barbie, come and see,’ says Skipper.
I’m made to pogo across the carpet. ‘What is it Skipper?’ (I’m beginning to hate Skipper).
‘I know, let’s go on holiday.’
My first thought is, great, I get to wear my Tropical Barbie outfit with matching towel, pink sunglasses and radio (I prefer the word transistor, it harks back to a time when girls were girls). And I can show off my perfect body. No panicking that I need to lose ten pounds in a day and a half. I don’t even need to breathe in.
‘Let’s go to the Brazilian rainforest,’ says Skipper.
‘What about Spain,’ I say, ‘or Barbados?’
Livvy and Skipper overrule me. Safari Barbie it is – zebra striped top, pink vest and sneakers, and off we go. One of Livvy’s many faults is that she has no imagination, so she pulls up the rainforest on You Tube and chooses a cast of extras from her box of cut out figures. There follows the longest thirty minutes of my life. We are greeted by near naked women with boobs – flaps I should say, ravaged by years of breastfeeding, and they don’t hunch or hide. There’s no hint of envy or competition in their eyes when they look at me. They’re welcoming and curious. They try to help as my sunglasses keep falling off.
But I feel pointless. I mean, that’s what I’m for, to make you feel inadequate. That didn’t come out right, I’m there to give you an ideal to strive for. Skipper is getting too much attention. I raise my pointy hand and clear my throat. ‘Girls, girls,’ I say, above the chatter. ‘Want to know who first thought of Brazilians? Me of course.’ I don’t think they get it. ‘You know, smooth, down there.’ More giggling.
One old girl is eyeing my chest. That’s more like it. That gappy grin is probably a mask for envy. I lift my vest to give her an idea of perfection. ‘My anti-nipple campaign hasn’t taken off yet,’ I explain, ‘but it will when women start to see the advantages. Just think, no more breast or bottle guilt-tripping, just, ‘Sorry, no nipples, pass the bottle.’’
The crone pats the ground beside her. I don’t want to get that cosy, but Livvy plonks me down with my arms and legs sticking out stiffly in front of me. The old girl unfolds her limbs and copies me. She seems to think it’s hilarious. Again it’s down to me to educate. ‘Cat-walk Barbie,’ I tell her, ‘is more posable. But on the whole it’s best to avoid movement. What does bending equal? You’ve got it (she hadn’t) – wrinkles. Look at your knuckles – ugly, elbows – not nice. Think immobile, think smooth.’
The tribals offer us some white slop to eat. I say, ‘Let’s have a pizza party.’ Skipper translates – I don’t know where she learned tribal languages. She has a secret life I think. More giggles. Never mind, at least they’ve seen perfection. There’s no going back now, the seed is sown.
Still no sign of a beach. We’re in a church thing. Churches – useful wedding backdrops, otherwise, big thumbs down. I want to cover my ears to shut out this dreary chanting but without elbows my hands end up above my head. I fiddle with my transistor till Skipper takes it. It’s not respectful she says. The place is full of men with shaven heads and identical pink robes – no wait. I see chest swellings, bosoms. These baldies are women. ‘What are they doing?’ I say.
‘Cultivating inner beauty,’ says Skipper.
‘Well what’s the point of that? Intestines are intestines. Beauty comes from without, and for that you need hair.’
I pogo to the altar, grab one woman by the hand and pull her out of that cross-legged position. It’s makeover time. I lean over the bald head and drape my hair around her face. ‘Now isn’t that better? Pink is good but we need to lose the draping.’ I pull the robes tight and twist them behind her. ‘Look, you’ve got a waist, and a bust. Not quite the 44, 16, 34 ideal but it’s a start.’ The woman examines her new shape with a peaceful gleam in her eyes. ‘I wouldn’t look so perfectly content if I were you,’ I advise her, ‘you’ve a way to go yet.’
What’s that I hear? A helicopter. Skipper and I run outside. It’s Action Man. Skipper gets to him first and starts a play fight. That’s alright, it gives me time to change. I’ll dazzle him with my fashionable fuchsia glitter glam outfit. When I get back, they’re rolling around in the mud. I don’t really want him near my dress but he says that’s okay, he’s done what he came to do and gets back in the chopper.
As we land, Skipper says brightly: ‘Here we are in Indonesia and there’s the Mentawai tribe. Hello, I’m Skipper and this is Barbie.’
After that the conversation flags. ‘Do you have a crush on anyone?’ I say.
These women look more promising, they’ve made an effort with beads, but what is happening to that girl?
‘They’re making her beautiful,’ says Skipper.
By sharpening her teeth with a knife and a stick? It’s clearly very painful and the result looks terrible.
‘This vampire vogue is just a fad,’ I tell the girl. ‘Bleach is all you need for teeth, and stay off the food – that goes without saying.’
‘Ah,’ the girl says. That’s all she can say with her jaw wedged open like that but I’m sensing another convert here.
‘You won’t catch vampires wearing pink,’ I say, ‘or real women wearing black.’
‘Twilight Eclipse Barbie,’ Skipper taunts. ‘The only one with style. And the Edward doll – yum-yum slurp.’
There are times – very few, granted – when I could use another facial expression.
‘Are you constipated?’ says Skipper.
I graciously overlook the comment. ‘Eclipse is a here today, gone tomorrow aberration. Why do you think she dumped those dreadful clothes on you? She couldn’t wait to get some pink on her back.’
Skipper always wears black or drab neutrals, or even Action Man’s camouflage when she emerges from his shoe box in the morning, after a night of goodness knows what noisy games. Ah well – boyish by name, boyish by nature. ‘Real beauty is timeless,’ I say. ‘I’ve hardly changed since 1959. I was then, and always will be, the standard.’ I grab the dentist’s knife and throw it into the big leafy things.
Skipper butts in. ‘You know, this isn’t nearly as bad as the things you make women do.’
‘Like having their faces peeled off, pulled up and stitched back on; like having their boobs cut open and stuffed; like having tubes stuck up their…’
‘That’s not the same at all. It’s worth the effort to look like me. That’s what women are for.’
‘You monster,’ says Livvy, in her own voice.
Here we go again. I’ll get my own back in a minute. She goes to her Facebook group page. It’s called I hate Barbie, – now do you get how twisted she is? You’d think a twenty-two year old would be more mature. She posts my latest holiday snaps and a little account of our trip. In the next hour, 1087 people click on ‘like’. That just shows, they all agree with me.
***Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk. It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here: http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/ Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women: ‘Heroines and Inspirations’— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her own powerful, inspiring poems, and the stories behind them. ‘Sensitivity’ — Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person. Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’ ‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future. ‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie. ‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers. Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters. Sophelia writes about the importance of her community as a family at Sophelia’s Adventures in Japan.