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Barby (Barbara) on Barbie

Barbie Doll in Pink

I went to see Barbie with Fran and Eileen, and all the husbands.

You can see we honored the dress code--and Arthur wore his pink shirt. We went out afterwards and had a great talk touching on feminism, the patriarchy, the male gaze, art, fantasy, reality and the movies. For all my mixed feeling about Barbie I had a great time.

Willa Paskin, in an article titled Plastic Fantastic in the July 16th New York Times Magazine, referred to Barbie as "This toy with its infamous breasts, the figurine who became an enduring avatar of plastic perfection, an instrument of toxic gender norms and consumerist ideals of femininity...but also a potent complicated contradictory symbol that stands near the center of a decades long and still running argument about how to be a woman." Phew!

Collage of two golden holy figures and a Barbie Doll

That's a lot to put on a doll, and it's all further complicated for me because she appropriated my name which made it weird, awkward, silly when I introduced myself. At the age of twelve or thirteen I could have done without the attention the name brought me.

Did I play with dolls? Barbie arrived as I was finishing up with all that.

I had a Revlon doll, a grown up lady with what my little cousin Kathy called "blossoms." My mother made an elaborate wardrobe for her, including a bridal gown which won a prize at a doll show.

I also had a baby doll who came with a lot of furniture and accessories and maybe it was all the stuff that I loved not the doll itself. I played with all of my dolls but didn't really get it--there was always a feeling of futility, like, what's the use of this?

In fifth grade I put one doll named Pammy to bed and pretended that she had the flu. I came home from school every day for a week and read to her and after that I put her away and that was the end. No more dolls.

But then at a family get-together when I was pregnant with Jessie, my first-born, my sister-in-law finally entrusted me with her child--her second, and I babysat while the rest of the family went to town. Donna warned me that Danny had not been feeling good. That was an understatement --projectile vomiting. (Let me remind you that Danny recently retired as General Council to the Senate Judiciary Committee but we all have our origin stories.)

My first thought, after I gagged and wiped my face was, "Oh, Boy, I get to give him a bath." As I took off his little clothes I had a sense memory and an epiphany. This is what playing with dolls was all about. And I absolutely adored being a mom, and also a grandmother.

Jessie had dolls, including Big Annie, made by my mother,

Little girl sleeping with a rag doll

but no Barbies. Her friend Alexandra apparently reported that to her mother and they showed up at Jessie's birthday party with a Barbie and an attitude that said I should be reported to child services.

When I found that Barbie under the bed I felt vindicated. Molly has never had a Barbie, but she was eager to see the movie. I asked Jessie if Molly had any insight and Jessie said, "Not that she told me!" Molly did say, "Mom, it will make your cry." Not that she thought it would be moving but because she likes to make fun of Jessie for crying at the movies. She is well on her way to being a teenager.

Here are two different ways to depict a woman. Barbie is wondering, "Am I over dressed?"

Collage of a Barbie doll and a sculpture by Maillol

Did I like the movie? I thoroughly enjoyed it. I won't give away the very funny last line but the last scene had resonance for me, as Barbie, after becoming a real woman, says what I said years ago. My name is Barbara.

Collage of a Barbie Doll and an architectural detail

To all my Barbara friends, what do you want to bet that a year from now we'll see a bunch of baby girls named Barbara?

One more thing; Remember how last week I wrote about worry? I found this from Mary Oliver ...

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it? Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better? Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless. Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia? Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.

She never lets me down. I wonder what she thought of Barbie?

August 10, 2023

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