Barbie Set a High Bar for Our Lives

These dolls once inspired our little girls. Will they still?

I’m a grown woman. And I’ll admit it — I love Barbie dolls.

So Mattel’s announcement about three more “realistic” Barbies hitting the toy market was a bit hard to swallow. Barbie will be available soon in curvy, tall or petite varieties; curvy Barbie has already been renamed “Fat Barbie” on the Internet. The new Barbies will be available online immediately and in stores this March.

Feminists are cheering the new Barbie, thrilled she is more realistic, more representative of women everywhere fighting for equality and rights and anything else they can think of.

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That’s not the Barbie I have always known. My gal is just too busy having fun for that.

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I remember all the adventures my Barbie and her little sister Skipper had. They roamed beaches in their Jeep, camped out with friends in their beautifully appointed Barbie camper, and decided not to invite Ken to the big party in Malibu. They weren’t feeling it.

Barbie lined her tiny little shoes up neatly at night, and always said goodnight to her little sister, even when I didn’t. She wore a long nightgown that my mother carefully washed and ironed.

Through Barbie’s perfection, I had something to shoot for: the woman I might someday be. I would be pulled together, perfectly accessorized, and in control of my own Jeep — and my own life. My Barbies called the shots. In many scenarios, Ken was merely arm candy.

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As very little girls, my sister and I had fake knockoffs of the original Barbie — we called them Farbies. My parents were young and working hard at building a life for us, and the Mattel versions did not make the family budget.

My mom found these knock-off Barbies at a dime store. Their plastic was hard, their hair brittle. Their lipstick and eyelashes had been painted on hurriedly and didn’t match the mold they were birthed from. Their manufacturing seams were evident on their perfectly slim sides.

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We loved our Farbies. We emptied an Utz potato chip barrel and filled it with water. Voila! Farbie had a swimming pool. Our Farbies — we each had one — slept in shoe boxes we carefully lined with washcloths; our mother gave us scraps of material for their bedspreads.

Soon, our family had a bit more money, and we were presented with real Barbies. Our Farbies were pushed to the side as more perfect representations of fashionable womanhood replaced them.

Our Barbies never raised money for charity. They didn’t run for the school board, and they didn’t discuss gender issues. I don’t even think they ever held a job.

What they did do was rock their own lives. They showed up perfectly dressed and ready to be in the center of the action. They dived off cliffs (the edge of the Utz barrel) and they drove their Jeep off-road (the back of our sofa). They made plans and carried them out. Any text they might receive (had texting been around then) would seem so boring as to not be deserving of their time.

Barbie is supposed to stir dreams in little girls. Barbie teaches them to dress well and show up for life’s adventures. Barbie is both an ideal to shoot for and a real doll to love.

There’s enough “real world” out there waiting for our little girls. Let’s do our daughters a big favor and go for the gusto. Get the impossibly beautiful Barbie imbued with her unrealistic proportions — and your daughter’s wonderfully unrealistic dreams.

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