Barbie turned 50 this week. And if Barbie, with her perfect, plastic persona, is anything like the red-blooded, hormone-drenched women I know who’ve turned 50, I would never dare say a word against her.
Except that every time I look at Barbie she pisses me off.
It isn’t her impossibly disproportionate measurements. Though the International Journal of Eating Disorders says that if she were life-sized, Barbie’s measurements would be 38-18-34. And others say that her legs are 50 percent longer than her arms, making it physically impossible for her to even walk, let alone snowboard, samba or play in the WNBA.
It isn’t her incredibly vast wardrobe either. Although I was terribly jealous when I heard that 50 famous fashion designers gifted her with custom made couture this week, including Tommy Hilfiger’s hand-beaded white minidress, Diane von Furstenberg’s hot-pink wrap dress and Betsey Johnson’s outrageous green party dress.
It isn’t Barbie’s refusal to let herself age gracefully that gets me hot under the collar either. A little Botox here and there is understandable; she’s always in the public eye. Though she’s had so many injections her face doesn’t move, and she’d be a much better communicator if it weren’t so hard to tell what she was thinking because her expression never changes.
It isn’t even her flakiness that ticks me off. Though I must admit, at 50 years old it’s about time Barbie figured out what she wants to do with her life. By my count, she’s had more than 100 careers-including teacher, Prime Minister, Mary Kay consultant, World Cup soccer player, nurse, yoga instructor, life guard, sign-language teacher, NASCAR driver, fighter pilot, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and rapper -you’d think that by now she would have found something that holds her interest for more than a season.
But that’s not it either.
Every time I look at Barbie she pisses me off because I see dollar signs floating away from me. Lots and lots of dollar signs.
I suppose I should explain.
When I was a kid, my Grandpa Jules was in the toy business. He never worked for Mattel, but somehow he got a hold of one of the original prototype Barbie sets. That’s right, one of the originals, with 20 different dolls from 1959, including Barbie dressed in her original black and white zebra striped swimsuit and signature blonde topknot ponytail.
Yes, the one and only original Barbie who sold at auction for $17,450 back in 2006. And there were 20 of them in the box, including some I don’t think ever made it to market. Can you imagine what they’d be worth today?
Growing up with a father in the toy business, my mom didn’t give a second thought to letting me play with the original Barbies. $17,450 for just one little Barbie! They may as well have given me dollar bills and matches to play with.
I shaved their heads, decapitated them, painted them with nail polish and ink, removed their limbs and put them into compromising positions with Ken, G.I. Joe, and Raggedy Ann and Andy.
But unlike all of the millions of other little girls who were torturing Barbie-by the way, this is such a common occurrence that Britain’s University of Bath did a research study which found that Barbie torture was a legitimate play activity-I was actually desecrating something that should have been locked away and cashed in as a down payment on my son’s college education.
I know it’s a cherished part of American girlhood to dote on, dress up, and then eventually torture Barbie with scissors and ballpoint pens. And I loved every minute of it. But couldn’t I have weathered these important lessons in love, accessories, destruction, and deconstruction, on a less valuable Barbie’s body? After all, my sister and I had heaps of Barbie Dolls, which were left naked and either headless or with their heads twisted impossibly, arms and legs in agonizing positions, and abandoned to mingle with our extra cards, stubby pencils and lost buttons under the couch. Why oh why did mom have to let us play with the valuable ones?