|I was always acutely aware of the physical
differences between boys and girls. This is because my
brother, a mere 18 months younger than I, was a central
part of my early life. I learnt very early that boys had
"tossels" while girls had "fannies"
and boys wore pants, but never wore skirts. Like many
young girls, I was dressed in pink, went to ballet
classes and was smothered with dolls I was supposed to
instinctually know how to mother. My brother, however,
had a large collection of Tonka trucks. While we both
played in the dirt and enjoyed all of the same
activities, he was never thrust a miniature of himself
and told to father it.
Actually, I did not care for dolls until the age of four, when I ventured to the domain of my much older, next door neighbor. It was at Allison's house that the joy of Barbie was discovered, launching a life-long desire for big breasts and a ridiculously small waist. When she brought out her suitcase overflowing with old, ignored Barbie dolls, layer upon layer of clothes and miniature high-heeled shoes, I learned more about what it was like to be female than I had in my prior four years on this earth.
From her dramatically arched brows to her eternally tipped toes, Barbie was the essence of womanhood. I didn't know exactly what it was about Barbie that made me want her; or more precisely, want to be her. I simply knew that she had "it": the charm; the charisma; those doey eyes; the undeniable sex appeal, and one hell of a fashion sense. Barbie was the ultimate woman. Yet, ironically, so unlike any other woman I had ever seen.
My first time with Barbie was a momentous occasion. She was wearing a red skirt suit, perfectly tailored to flatter her exquisite curves. She screamed power, but exuded femininity. I couldn't just look and admire from a distance - I wanted a piece of that power. So my clumsy four-year-old hands, layer by tiny layer, gently undressed that doll until before me lay a shiny, plastic piece of perfection.
Now I had seen a naked female body before, but my mother's soft and squishy form was nothing like this hard-bodied babe's. Barbie's perpetually perky, round and smooth breasts evoked gasps of something between envy and horror. Yet as wonderful as Barbie's breasts were, I knew there was something missing: she had no nipples. My indignation was only compounded when I lifted off her small skirt, only to discover nothing! My four-year old mind had difficulty conceiving the idea of a grown woman wearing absolutely nothing under her dress, let alone having absolutely nothing under her dress. Sure, none of my other dolls had genitals either, but I wasn't expecting Barbie to be like any of my other dolls.
I set about dressing and undressing Barbie's lifeless figure. Although I had no understanding of sexuality at that point, I alternately turned her from a respectable prude to a "slut" before settling upon plain and simple nakedness. No matter what she wore however, it was her feet that were the greater curiosity. Permanently on tippy toes, Barbie quickly taught me something about femininity: real women always wear high heels.
Having exhausted the bottom three quarters of her body my eyes traced Barbie's silky, tanned shape from her toes to her angelic face, which was framed by a halo of lustrous blond locks. Peering from under long-lashed, blue-shadowed lids, Barbie's purple eyes were, though disturbingly blank, entrancing. Her smile revealed pearly white teeth in a perfectly straight line, and behind those teeth were bunches of secrets just waiting to tumble out. If only Barbie could talk.
By the end of my first hour with her I was a disciple. When I went home that night I asked for a Barbie of my own, and my mother willingly, if unwittingly, complied. Thus began a Barbie collection that would soon rival any other, complete with pink beach buggy and a permanently warped idea of what it meant to be a woman.
Barbie was a constant in my life from the time I was four until two weeks after my tenth birthday, when my brother decided that she would look good with a crew cut. She taught me about beauty while I was young and encouraged me to mimic her womanly appeal by trying out my mother's heels and experimenting with red lipstick. Much later Barbie played a starring role in the live sex shows I concocted with my friends and taught me something altogether different about being a woman.
And if Barbie could have talked, what would she have told me?
That high heels are hell. They may cause that alluring curve of your calf and force your ass to jut out in that sexy way, but at the end of the day when your feet are throbbing and your back is aching, sex is the last thing you really want.
That make up is messy, and quickly becomes a chore. It erodes your self-esteem if you wear it all the time and makes you feel less beautiful if you go out before "putting on your face". That real beauty stems from inner strength and confidence, not from perfectly lined lips and painstakingly shaped brows.
That she starved herself to get that figure, and she hasn't menstruated in years! Her skin is wrinkling prematurely from all that time in the sun and shaving is such a bore.
That she always wanted to be treated like a real and intelligent person, rather than the sex object she was created to be. She is more than just tits and ass and maybe even has a PhD in astrophysics, but try telling that to the guy who whistles at her as she walks down the street and the colleagues who stare at her breasts while she presents her latest thesis.
Since Barbie's birth as a fully-grown woman in the fifties she has been portrayed by society as the ultimate model of femininity. While my parents and teachers never explicitly pushed traditional gender stereotypes onto me, my culture subtly shaped my mind, ensuring that I knew what was expected of me as a woman. Barbie came to epitomize these requirements. Unfortunately, Barbie's role as purveyor of femininity to countless of impressionable young girls has left many of us disillusioned and hurt. There is nothing more depressing than the pursuit of an unreachable goal and the desire to have the perfect body, the perfect face and the perfect smile is something that each woman has experienced at some point in her life. Sometimes with devastating consequences.
While society is slowly changing, one thing has remained constant: a woman's worth is intrinsically tied to the way that she looks. The media reinforces this pervasive idea on a daily basis and it is difficult to escape, even in our own homes. Only until such a time when looks become secondary to achievement, Barbie will continue to have a powerful influence over the minds of women and tired, old ideals of femininity will persist.