Contrary to the lyrics that swam through my head throughout middle school, I was not a Barbie girl, and I did not live in a Barbie world.
I lived in a braces, glasses, back brace, greasy face world.
By the time I was in seventh grade, it had been years since I’d played with Barbie dolls, but I saw their life-size doppelgangers every day in the halls between classes. There they were with their blond tresses, straight teeth, cute little noses, and Tommy Hilfiger graphic tees. Their sweater vests were straight out of an Abercrombie catalog, and their hair smelled like cherries. And I was about as close to being one of those girls as I was to have Barbie’s womanly figure and sky-high arches (which is to say, not very).
Twenty-five years later I still couldn’t see myself in the Barbies parading across the silver screen in the new Barbie movie; I didn’t recognize myself in Doctor Barbie, Lawyer Barbie, President Barbie, and certainly not in Stereotypical Barbie. I didn’t see myself in anyone in Barbie Land.
Then I saw Midge.
There she was in her super awkward, super pregnant glory, just wandering around the periphery like some sort of freshman pariah at the homecoming dance. None of the Barbies seemed very excited to see Midge, dismissing her with obligatory waves—never excluding her but definitely not including her in all the fun. Even the narrator pointed out that, “a pregnant doll is just too weird.”
Yet this Midge (who might be weirder than Weird Barbie) had the only face in which I recognized my own. To me, she was the pregnant lady unsure of how hard her world would be rocked. She was the postpartum mama who didn’t recognize her own body and couldn’t stop crying all the time, the mother of two littles who loves her children but has no hobbies, the parent of three kids who has unearthed new parts of herself through mothering but is also trying to excavate bits and pieces of her life before kids. In Barbie Land, Midge was, by default, the only mother and every mother.
Was it possible that Midge, with her removable magnetic baby belly, was the only one who could really get it? Would she resent Allan when the baby cried only for her? Would she roll her eyes at Stereotypical Barbie when the first dimple of cellulite showed up on the blonde bombshell’s perfect thigh? How many quarters would she put in the swear jar when the plastic cups in the Dream House poured out pretend coffee after a sleepless night? Would she learn what it was like to try to nurse a baby discreetly on a park bench while everyone else watched Ken try to catch a wave?
Eventually, Midge wasn’t the only mother in Barbie Land. After Gloria—the human to whom Stereotypical Barbie belonged in the Real World—made her way there to help mend things, she delivered a speech so powerful that it (spoiler alert!) reversed the Barbies’ brainwashing.
I loved seeing a mother as Barbie’s sidekick, and I can only hope Midge would’ve seen Gloria at work and realized the power she and every other mother possess, that she would understand motherhood can be wonderful and not just weird. Then maybe she’d have the confidence to scrap the wallflower look, march out onto the dance floor, and dance the night away, baby belly and all.
A mom’s night out that ends with choreographed dance sequences? Yes, please! Now I just need to find my Birkenstocks and the keys to my Barbie Corvette.