By the time my daughter was three years old, many of her friends had Barbies. She began asking for one of her own. I was of the mind that Barbie was a clueless bimbo with weird feet, and Ken was a putz. I didn’t buy one until that day in the grocery store. It had been a grueling day and she had not complained about being in and out of the car seat, having to plan around her baby brother’s nap time, and having had so little of my attention.
So, when from the cart, she reached for a knock-off Barbie, way less expensive than the real one, but with breasts just as suspiciously spectacular above that pencil thin wisp of a waist, I gave in. My daughter was delighted.
The consumer-high barely lasted until we got home. Fake Barbie’s head came off her long slender neck. My daughter ran to me, carefully cradling headless Barbie like an injured bird. Fix her, Mommy! Barbie’s hurt!
Decapitation is never pretty. It kept happening. Possibly the result of a nutritional deficiency resulting from her strict diet of grapefruit and kale smoothies, the bulbous apex of Barbie’s neck was not wide enough to secure her head. My child was frustrated. Bereft.
The next day, after disposing of the body, we bought our first real Barbie. I don’t recall which one. Soon after, Barbie and her friends became special guests at every girl’s birthday party. I’d be watching the loot-reveal hoping for something new. A Transformer. Some Legos. A packet of sea monkeys to grow, complete with a tiny magnifying glass to watch them perform circus tricks. But it was always Barbie.
I often let my children choose the gift for a friend’s birthday. My daughter wanted to give her friend a Barbie and chose a Black Barbie, saying she was the prettiest.
The party was extravagant. The four-year-old’s parents were financially secure and knew how to put on a spread. Three generations of party-goers filled the expansive home, snacking on pate’ and pizza, sipping wine and juice in a box. The loot-reveal was in full abundant chaos. A mountain of gift wrap, a forest of glittery ribbons and bows. An entire suburb of Barbies emerging from the rubble, each with a purpose. A fulfilling career. A model. A veterinarian. An aerobics instructor.
When the birthday girl opened my daughter’s gift, Black Barbie was not only a minority, she was the only Black face in the room. A hush fell over the crowd. I heard a woman behind me say, “Why would someone bring a gift like that?” It was then that I realized I’d judged Barbie unfairly. She was way smarter than I’d given her credit for. Way smarter than some of the people at this birthday party. We could all learn some important lessons from Barbie and her friends.
Before long, my daughter gave up Barbies in favor of Trolls. Trolls came in all sizes and colors. Trolls might have pink hair. Or blue. They didn’t fuss about their clothes, often preferring to be naked. They could play outside and not worry about getting dirty. In fact, one of the Trolls favorite things was a refreshing mud bath. Did I mention they came in all colors?