Am I in a Barbie World?
My upbringing closely mirrored that of many millennial girls. I indulged in books, caught up on TV shows after school, and wholeheartedly embraced my identity as a quintessential Barbie enthusiast. To me, Barbie represented the pinnacle of beauty and achievement, and my fascination with her knew no bounds.
Within the realm of Barbie, I possessed the grand Dream House, and she gracefully arrived there in her punk Barbie jeep. On special occasions, she embarked on dreamy journeys into the sunset, seated in her fabulous Barbie limousine, complete with an attached pool. My Barbie's wardrobe brimmed with exquisite ensembles to suit any conceivable mood or profession she dared to imagine. Alongside her, there were accessories aplenty, adorable puppies, a lively roster of Barbie companions, and indeed, an optional Ken.
Barbie, both for me and countless young girls, stood as a beacon of ideals, a miniaturized reflection of the potential we envisioned for ourselves in adulthood. We dreamt of being astronauts, doctors, chefs, and in my personal fancy, a resplendent butterfly princess. A vast array of Barbie dolls awaited, each donning distinct careers, styles, and life purposes. All were remarkably stunning, svelte, and impeccably poised. Through Barbie, I could engage in a playful rehearsal of the life I envisioned as a grown-up. Crafting scenes and narratives, I navigated the intricate pathways of my future through the captivating vessel of my chosen doll.
At the zenith of my Barbie obsession, my own mother gracefully filled the role of a stay-at-home mom, nurturing a relationship with a Navy sailor. While my mother's beauty was, and continues to be, truly captivating, it radiated a uniqueness distinct from Barbie's. She often adorned herself in elegant house robes, effortlessly balancing a baby on her hip as she masterfully orchestrated three daily meals in the kitchen.
I held a deep affection for my mother, yet the image she projected wasn't the same as the glamorous vision of Barbie that I aspired to embody one day. My mother had her own hopes for me. She envisioned me as a devoted mother and wife in the future, a skilled homemaker and a culinary virtuoso, carrying forward treasured recipes from generations past, even those whose origins remained shrouded in mystery. I didn't outright dismiss my mother's conception of femininity, but the allure of what Barbie symbolized was undeniably more enchanting. Barbie's resounding message was an empowering "I can be," signifying that my potential was only limited by the bounds of my imagination.
As the years passed and I matured, the allure of playing with Barbie dolls waned, yet her feminist declaration endured within me. During my teenage years, I assumed the role of "Journalist Barbie," always armed with a pen, notebook, and a reservoir of probing interview queries, poised to craft the next compelling narrative for my high school newspaper.
In my early twenties, I transformed into "Career Barbie," adorned with the iconic Barbie bangs, dressed in impeccable early 2000s fashion, and fueled by an unwavering drive to ascend the corporate ladder.
Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I underwent another metamorphosis, becoming "College Campus Barbie." Armed with books in hand and athleisure attire on point, I proudly sported the latest Fabletics and Lululemon pieces, clutching a Starbucks coffee as if it were the quintessential accessory to my "I just crammed for the final exam Barbie" aesthetic.
I even delved into the role of "Beauty Pageant Fashion Model Barbie." My days revolved around attending "go-sees," securing bookings with high-end fashion designers, mingling with the cream of Central Florida's social elite, and gracing the Mrs. Florida pageant as Mrs. Kissimmee.
However, something within me shifted as I entered my thirties. The once resounding "You can be anything" motto transformed into a more complex assertion: "I Can Be More." Despite having seemingly done it all, a sense of unfulfillment still lingered.
One thing the Barbie brand never quite conveyed was the notion of "being" simply a mother or wife. In fact, it actively contradicted this idea. The Barbie ethos was rooted in teaching women that their identities could extend far beyond maternal and spousal roles. Barbie imparted the belief that Ken, the male figure, was at best an optional embellishment. Pregnancy was portrayed as an unconventional choice (as evident in the Midge episode), while the ideal woman should perpetually exude beauty, maintain a slender figure, and epitomize success.
It took me until my thirties to realize that these rigid expectations for women were neither healthful nor realistic. Before any fingers of criticism are pointed my way, suggesting that I'm aware Barbie isn't an all-encompassing ideal, I implore you to scrutinize the landscape of American women.
The majority of women are entrenched in the workforce, often overburdened, perpetually stressed, and occasionally ravaged by burnout. These self-professed feminists embark on quests for love while simultaneously asserting independence from men. Yet, they navigate loneliness, ensnared by a pervasive narrative and struggling to age gracefully.
In recent weeks, attention has been directed towards the highly anticipated Barbie movie, which some critics argue carries a pronounced feminist theme. The film's overarching message seeks to empower a certain strain of femininity while challenging traditional gender norms. While the movie undeniably succeeds in this endeavor, it's important to note that it's not the pioneer in conveying such messages to both young and middle-aged women. Feminist ideals have become deeply ingrained within American culture, permeating various facets of media, entertainment, and public education.
The Barbie doll, while also implicated in this narrative, tends to be an easy target.
What perplexes me is the prevailing lack of awareness among the majority of women regarding the implications of toxic femininity and its association with the feminist movement.
In the wake of liberation for women, Americans have burned bras, made it clear they do not need a man, chose to forgo motherhood, and have chosen a path of promiscuity that is accompanied by a complex array of its own challenges.
Approaching my forties at breakneck speed, I must confess that my affinity for all things Barbie endures, albeit in a different guise from yesteryears. Barbie, undeniably, continues to exude a magnetic charm. Her realm of perpetual pinkness whisked me away from reality, extending an invitation into a realm crafted entirely to my liking. Once a resolute fixture in my life, Barbie still retains her status as a fashion maven, a paragon of beauty and success, though admittedly, she resides firmly within the realm of the unattainable.
Beneath Barbie's veneer of rosy perfection, a feminist truth lies hidden, a subject that women often skirt around. It speaks of a yearning for enduring companionship, motherhood, and the serene art of crafting and inhabiting a nurturing space without the relentless grind of a 9-to-5 existence. Yet, just as the Barbie façade endures, so does the steadfast grip of the feminist movement persist.
Given these considerations, I find myself pondering what lies ahead for this scribe, a sort of "Blogger Barbie." Might it be a phase of retirement akin to "Retired Life Barbie"?
Or a chapter distinguished by embracing the role of a doting grandmother, embodying the essence of "Butterscotch and Peppermint Barbie"?
Then again, perhaps the path forward entails shedding the persona of any Barbie altogether, embracing the unadorned essence of simply being Chay.