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I Never Needed a Barbie

I Never Needed a Barbie

The epitome of beauty and grace, she stood in pink perfection, just beyond my grazing fingers. Her smile was welcoming and confident and her blue eyes and the dusting of rose on her cheeks seemed to further distance her from my reach.

“You don’t need a Barbie.”

Does anyone need a Barbie? Perhaps some of us did. Perhaps some of us still do. 

‘You don’t need a Barbie’ was much more than that. We needed other things. There was only so much to go around and when it came to things we needed, Barbie and her cute pink tweed skirt and perfect smile, blond hair hanging over the side of her shoulder, wasn’t on the list.

She never made the list.

At the tender age of five I learned the lesson of practicality. One I’m still trying to stretch from its constrictions today. Barbie taught me that not all girls can have what she has. That not all girls could have her, be like her, look like her. No. I was practical. Except when I wasn’t. When I wanted to rage against a world that said I could never have her perfection so I skewed hard, rolling myself out of my imaginary pink convertible. 

Who needed Barbie anyway? 

I didn’t. 

As a teen I’d put her and dolls away, save the couple I kept as keepsakes. Correction, keep as keepsakes. They were precious because they were few. Chatty Cathy and brown skin cabbage patch doll. I don’t remember what her name was now. My mother kept a doll from her childhood. A pretty brown skin walking doll with bright round eyes. None of them looked like Barbie. 

While my body developed, forming long strong legs, a fuller bust, and a rear end that went noticed in certain neighborhoods, there were no Barbie’s that looked like me. Their skin always looked off, or they simply looked like they’d added dye to the regular barbie mix. Making her hair off black and her skin shades of khaki and brown. 

I didn’t need a reminder that my skin wasn’t in. Not then. I didn’t need Barbie.

In college I was young, leggy, and tall but never thin enough. I was strong and athletic and worked constantly. There were Barbie’s that looked more like me, but in my early 20s, a pageant winner and college girl, Barbie was just someone I wanted to remind people of when I walked by. And I did. But I didn’t need her. No, I’d never needed her. 

I had never thought I’d needed her.

I Didn’t Even Know

I didn’t know I needed Barbie until she stood in pink heels, larger than life on the big screen with my newly minted twenty-one year old daughter and her 20-something year old friend beside her that this changed. 

I’d been reaching for what she had all my life. Trying to live up to this expectation of beauty, grace, success, career, love, and every other thing because some part of me needed to have that part of her. I realized I had needed her. Not the unattainable perfection, but the idea. I saw that Barbie spirit in my daughter. I saw it in myself. That spirit of ‘what else is possible?’ and ‘I can be anything I want to be if I put my mind to it’. 

My daughter and I celebrating her Barbie-themed 21st birthday in June 2023
My daughter and I celebrating her Barbie-themed 21st birthday in June 2023

Now, I look in the mirror, middle-aged, graying temples and fine lines teasing the corners of my eyes. My smile and brow remind me of all the years that have gone by. All those years when I really did need what Barbie had to offer. Her spirit. And I didn’t know. I needed to believe I could have what I wanted if I believed and worked hard. I needed to believe that I was worthy of having it if I did what I needed to do. That the things accessible to her were accessible to me too.

The closest I came to being a part of Barbie’s world was the toy aisle at Kmart or at a friend’s house, if they had two. But, I get it now. I get why something in me knew I needed a Barbie at five, even if they didn’t have the Barbie I needed. I needed the spirit of Barbie. 

Barbie Doll Magic Curls 1981
Barbie Doll Magic Curls 1981
Barbie Doll Pink and Pretty Classic 1981
Barbie Doll Pink and Pretty Classic 1981

Barbie = Seen

Seeing the Barbie movie changed my perspective. I felt seen as a woman. The ogling eyes are gone and I can easily walk through a store and be ignored by those of the opposite sex. Either that or I’ve gotten so good at ignoring them I wouldn’t know anyway. But forty-something years after being taught that life lesson about practicality and needs, Barbie reinforced a lesson I’ve been trying to learn ever since. I can have the things I want, have the things I need, and still make room for others to have what they want and need too. Life doesn’t have to be limited only to the necessary. In fact it’s in meeting some of our desires we experience the joy of life, love, and meaning. 

That experience at Kmart shaped me. It’s one of those cannon events as they say. One I’ve been trying to shoot out and turn that canon into fireworks of beauty rather than a source of pain. It’s shaped what I do, my purpose, my passions, and yes how I prioritize and stay practical. 

No, I’m throwing it all to the wind. Barbie, whether it was directly or not, was with me. I used that lesson to try to be a better person, to reach goals and create a life that would allow me to inspire other girls and women, and to be able to say, ‘yes’, when my own daughter asked for a Barbie.

I’m really thinking all of us aging spirit Barbies really do need to go party.  

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