Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Perfect World of Barbie

I love Barbie. I am 26 years old, and I feel I can say that without shame. Barbie always looks glamorous and elegant. She never has a bad hair day. She has the perfect outfit for every occasion. She has been to the moon, won Olympic gold, and been president of the United States. In fact, she's had more careers than I've had haircuts. And all of her careers have been successful, which is more than I can say for my haircuts.

When I was young, playing with Barbie was magical. It all started with, "K, 'tend like..." and the story was off and running. Making up a new adventure for Barbie was always fun. Sometimes it lasted a few hours: Barbie goes camping, or Barbie opens a new boutique. And sometimes a story was good enough for several days of play: Barbie goes on a talk show to confront Ken when she finds out he's been cheating on her with her hot friend, Midge; Barbie is a witch who can levitate and cast spells on her enemies (like that bitch, Midge).

Even when I wasn't actually playing with Barbie, I was designing new outfits for her (read: wrapping leftover scraps of fabric around her and securing them with pony tail elastics and safety pins) or "fixing" her hair. I tried not to chop all of Barbie's hair off like other little girls - I didn't want to ruin what was more than just my favorite toy, but sometimes the urge to create overwhelmed my desire not to damage Barbie's perfection. Other times, I was satisfied just to brush Barbie's hair, braid it, twist it, and pin it to her head with my earrings - they make great hair accessories for Barbie, and I swear, she doesn't mind the holes in her scalp, as long as you can't see them!

Often, picking out Barbie's outfit and accessories for a new story line took more time (and was more fun) than walking her through the story. I even folded up little tiny notes for Barbie and made her magazines. When I was shopping, I always looked for things that could pass as Barbie props. Remember those little key chain notebooks? - perfect Barbie books once the key chain was removed. Equally important as Barbie's outfit, accessories, and props was her backdrop. I spent hours constructing Barbie's boudoir with filmy scarves as curtains and the legs of my jewelry armoire as the very classy pillars in her room. Of course, being a spoiled only child, I had a fair amount of pre-fab Barbie furniture, and I even got a fold-up Barbie house, eventually, but I loved creating new spaces for Barbie.

One of my favorite sets was a boutique clothing store, complete with neatly folded and hung fashions, a cash register, and tiny credit cards with real Visa and Discover logos. I have to give credit (har har) to my dad for the credit cards; he cut the little, rectangular logos from his cards when they expired. Over the years, he contributed a few things (other than his money) to my Barbie doll habit, despite the fact that he like to complain about how much Barbie stuff I had. He once made a beautiful little hammered copper bowl from a penny. One of my most memorable Christmas mornings was when there was a pink Barbie RV waiting for me under the Christmas tree. I later found out that my parents had been up almost all night assembling the plastic bits and pieces and applying the stickers.

My mom and memaw contributed by crocheting and sewing the most beautiful Barbie clothes. I was always delighted when mom took me to the craft store and let me pick out a new pattern and the color for the crochet thread and notions. Even my cousins got in on the act. Michelle, 10 years older than I, was (and is) also a Barbie fan. My first memories involving Barbie are of playing with Michelle and her Barbies. She is an incredible artist, and it was she who first inspired me to create the elaborate Barbie sets with scarves and people-sized furniture. Bryant, younger than Michelle, but older than me, occasionally made Barbie a computer or lent his G.I. Joe's as dates for Barbie.

As much as I love the brand, Barbie was never named Barbie once I brought her home from the store. I would search through the baby name book my parents used to name me to find new names for Barbie and her friends. I wasn't satisfied with Jennifer or Rachel; I looked for names like Chloe or Zoe. I couldn't name the outlet for my creativity anything ordinary or plain.

Barbie still holds a very special place in my heart. Though I've graduated from ripping the box open and playing with Barbie's hair, I still collect. I limit myself mostly to the red-haired variety, and Barbie now remains safely in the box, but she is no less magical. The pink aisle is smaller than ever, and though I prefer the website for its collector editions, the rows of pink boxes never fail to put a smile on my face and a pink, shiny glow around my heart.

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