Hall column: Barbie and me

  • Posted: Sunday, December 6, 2009 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 12:20 a.m.

by Sarah Hall
shall@salisburypost.com
Barbie and I have something in common. It isn't a dream house or perfect hair and definitely not the implausible top-heavy figure. We both turned 50 during the exact same week in March of this year, so my arrival at the half-century mark was overshadowed by her celebrity status. Barbie still looks pretty good. But she doesn't eat, so she doesn't have to worry about a middle-age spread. And she is already plastic, so she doesn't have to consider cosmetic surgery. My research shows that proportionally, the original Barbie doll, similar to the one I possessed as a child, would have a figure of 39-18-33 and be 5-foot, 9 inches tall. So if she were a real person, she would probably be unable to stand, especially with those tiny feet, and even with one of those wire things holding her up. This would make a modeling career especially difficult. Barbie's figure did get toned down a bit over the years. So instead of feeling totally inadequate, young girls were just made to feel somewhat unappealing. My research also indicates that Barbie has had 108 careers, only slightly more than me. But most of my jobs have been in and around Salisbury, and her jobs have taken her places, like the Olympics and the moon. A new exhibit just opened at the North Carolina Museum of History. It's called "Barbie Simply Fabulous at 50!" According to the exhibit curator, Sandra Webbere, "Barbie has changed with the times to mirror women's changing roles in society. She has evolved from a teenage fashion model to a career woman with professions ranging from a veterinarian to a NASCAR driver. Her early occupations reflected women's limited opportunities, but now the sky is the limit, literally." I got my first Barbie when I was in the hospital having my tonsils out, a gift meant to distract me from the trauma. My sister, a year-younger, was simultaneously having her tonsils out, and she received Barbie's friend, Midge. My status as elder daughter meant I was always given the more glamorous, celebrity dolls Barbie, Ken, Skipper. My sister had Midge, Alan and Scooter. But I recall thinking Alan, with his tousled red hair and slightly mischievous grin, was actually better-looking than my Ken with his molded flat-top and vacant expression. So Barbie and I were a little jealous. My Barbie had an amazing wardrobe, due to the fact that my mother was a stay-at-home mom with a perpetually whirring sewing machine. When she wasn't making outfits for my sister and myself she was cranking out miniature travel ensembles, lingerie and wedding gowns. But I was not content to allow Barbie to lounge about or shop or be a fashion model. I preferred to send her on perilous adventures and have her fall from cliffs, or live in a cave under my bed. When my sister and I had eventually amassed a varied collection of "fashion" dolls we put them in gangs and I drew a tattoo on one that never came off. When I was in college, I sold my Barbie and her entire wardrobe for a ridiculously low price at a yard sale. I know, I know don't tell me what price a vintage Barbie fetches these days. I don't know why I did that. Maybe some temporary need to turn my back on my childhood, to put away childish things. If I had known I would eventually be the mother of three daughters, maybe I would have resisted the impulse to purge myself of Barbie and her accessories. In 2004, Mattel announced that Barbie and Ken had ended their relationship but would remain friends. Apparently Barbie had been waiting since 1961 for Ken to pop the question, but they never got married. I, on the other hand, will have been married 30 years this month, to a real doll.

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