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  • Keithly Vite

My Own Barbie

As a kid, I didn’t particularly care who Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were, because Barbie landed on the moon years before they did. Seeing “The Nutcracker” at the Houston ballet was nothing compared to seeing Barbie spin around on-screen to defeat the mouse king in the Barbie film of the same name. In 2008, I wanted my mom to put Barbie’s name on the ballot instead of her preferred candidate’s. Barbie was a powerful, successful and kind woman, just like I wanted to be. I still love her for that. The original Barbie was released on March 9, 1959 with the first marketing campaign directly advertised to children. For the first time, little girls were given the chance to choose their role model. In the ‘50s, Barbie was a frizzy orange-haired thing with the exaggerated brows, blush, red lipstick and black eyeliner of the times. In 1968, the first African American friend of Barbie was released, with the first two Black and Latina Barbies following in 1980. The most beautiful thing about Barbie is that she contains many identities; she can be almost anybody without contradicting herself. Her critics seem to think of her solely as Malibu Barbie, a carefree Californian beach girl with an unrealistic body type, willfully ignoring all the times that Barbie has excelled in competitive career fields and earned several graduate degrees. The Barbies that populated my toy box rode around in the Malibu Barbie car after a shift as a teacher, headed to the Olympics and would be back in time to report for duty as president to solve world peace. Because Barbie is everything, a kid only needs to search their imagination for what they need from her. My child imagination, however, was stifled by the fact that the Barbie that dominated the screen, store aisles and toy box was the blonde, blue-eyed one. If you were lucky, you might be able to buy a Black Barbie or a white brunette Barbie, but I could never quite accept that Barbie didn’t look like me, or, rather, that I didn’t look like Barbie. I loved Barbie. I loved that she was smart, strong and able to be a good friend. I loved that she was a princess, a musketeer and a ballerina. So I would put on a tangled, blonde Hannah Montana wig and a pink princess dress to try to look like her. It never worked. My black hair poked out from underneath the wig and I thought my skin looked more like the dirt under Barbie’s feet. A heart-wrenching experience for me, to say the least: I tried to measure up to Barbie and found that I didn’t even compare. I lost interest in the whole Barbie franchise as I grew up. The release of the “Barbie Fashionistas” line in 2009, a series of Barbie dolls with different looks and styles, only vaguely registered. I remember the release of the “curvy” Barbie in 2016, only because it caused such a scandal (even with her new bodies, Barbie still didn’t have enough appeal for the 2010s.) Thankfully, the 2012 release of the “Barbie Dolls of the World” line didn’t even show up on my radar, because the Barbie from Mexico, my country of birth, came with a chihuahua and a passport. If I’d come across that tragically tone-deaf attempt at diversity, it might’ve been enough for me to write her off altogether. I was still waiting for Barbie to offer something new, even if I didn’t know it. I didn’t find it until 2019, after I’d moved away from my hometown and was living on my own. I was shopping in Target and took a detour through the toy aisle. There, I saw her: Barbie 121, the Hispanic Barbie with a silver prosthetic leg. I burst into tears right there. It was a small bandaid on a psychic wound. I remembered all the times I stood in front of the mirror looking back and forth between Barbie and myself. I remembered scrubbing my skin raw hoping that it would reveal a lighter layer underneath. I remembered the feeling of loving Barbie so much and myself not at all. This wonderful, simple plastic toy had moved me to a point where I sobbed in relief in a public bathroom. For the first time, I truly looked like Barbie. I didn’t buy her then. Instead, I left the doll for the next little brown girl to come across. Hopefully, she wouldn’t need the moment of healing I’d just had. Though I didn’t buy Barbie 121, I did recently buy Barbie 147. She has brown skin, brown eyes and brunette hair: my own color palette. She even has a little gold necklace with a circle charm, exactly like one I own. I didn’t realize how much love and tenderness I still held for Barbie until she came in the mail and I squealed in delight like I was still eight-years-old. That’s the kind of effect Barbie has had on kids since 1959, and will continue to have for years to come. Smoothing her hair and straightening her clothes, I felt how timeless she truly was. Barbie may be a little late in evolving, but if there’s one thing I know about her, it’s that she’s resilient and not going anywhere. - Art by Keithly Vite


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