Rethinking Barbie–And Why I Should Have Played More in the Dirt

red-headed Barbie in a wedding dress and veil
Barbie ponders her future.
Or something like that.

A funny thing, solitude.

At times it seems a wretched harlot, bent on destroying you–taking every last dime of your dignity until you are left emotionally penniless. In the end, this Delilah provides an opportunity for self-discovery, redemption, and, ultimately, freedom.

See, as ironic as it sounds, you eat enough meals alone, and you begin learning exactly what it is you want in a partner (and what you don’t). You wake up in an empty bed enough times that you finally understand what kind of person you eventually want to wake up next to, and whom you don’t ever want sleeping by your side.

You start listening to yourself as intently as you listen to others, sometimes more so. The result being: you get to know yourself so well that you become your own best friend.

But it’s no surprise that we women feel pressured by the expectations of society to be someone else’s best friend, another’s companion, a caregiver, a lover, a mother, a wife.

Sadly, even in our modern world, we still experience social stigmas related to being single. While the bachelor lifestyle is seen as ideal (even revered) among men, a single woman in her 20s and beyond is often labeled an “old maid” or, heaven forbid, if she owns any felines, a “crazy cat lady.”

From a very early age, we are expected to assume the identities of those in our intimate circles. After all, what is Barbie without Ken? And what little girl doesn’t grow up playing “house” or carrying around a baby doll, therefore reinforcing the idea that she is nothing without someone to care for, someone to love? Being born into this world with female parts means immediately donning a constricting corset of self-forfeiture supported by the boning of archaic demands and the fibers of societal stigmas.

Well, I have an idea. How about teaching our little girls to love themselves?

Instead of allowing them to dress up in mom’s bridal costume and daydream about their wedding day, why aren’t we letting them try on our caps and gowns, encouraging them to visualize their college graduation day?

As adults, are we also communicating the value of other important milestones in their lives? Are we teaching them that, while they may wear an expensive white dress for a single day (hopefully) in their lives, the Ann Taylor slacks will be the garment of choice when interviewing for their dream job? Is it apparent that those threadbare jeans with the holes in the knees will be the only acceptable item to wear during grueling volunteer trips abroad? And that sports bra, does she know that it’s not just underwear, but rather a badge of honor for when she completes her first marathon?

I was a little girl once. And I wish I would have played more often in the dirt than with plastic dolls, and spent more time reading books than applying makeup. I wish I would have written more fantastical stories and less sad poetry about this boy or that.

And I wish I would have learned earlier on that my own value doesn’t depend on anyone else’s presence–or lack thereof–in my life.

A woman’s worth does not–and should not–hinge on another person’s existence. A wife is not defined by her husband, a mother is not defined by her children–and a single woman isn’t defined by her number of cats.

The moments will come in all of our lives when we ask ourselves, “Who am I, really?” All I know is that, however many companions–or cats–I may have in my life, I want my answer to simply be, “Me. Just me.”

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3 thoughts on “Rethinking Barbie–And Why I Should Have Played More in the Dirt

  1. …there are some that would argue that reality is no more than perspective; that not timing, but context, is everything; that without others, we cannot define our own relative value.

    Does Barbie not also point out that ANY career is a possible option? That buying a pink convertible can be accepted by society (free of judgement)? …if I remember correctly, Ken was not the headliner – I couldn’t even tell you what his career was (hard to prove he is/was a breadwinner…).

    But most importantly [to me], I feel a quote sums up how I feel about isolation, secludedness, being alone, and self-definition defined by nothing more than the self, is best defined by a quote in a movie (and probably a book) titled “Into the Wilderness”:

    “Happiness is not real unless shared.”

  2. Interesting read. Solitude for me is something I have always written about and spoken about. People’s fear of solitude hinders them from deep reflection and this is what they fail to see. Though I’m certain that one can have self-reflections with company, but I must say with my experience, my most profound discoveries about myself were those times when I was alone and welcomed solitude. Like I have always said, there is a difference between feeling lonely and being alone. I never felt lonely in my alone times.

    As for Barbie! As a child growing up, she was left on top of a shelf, collecting dust. Of course, at such a young age, I did not analyze Barbie further than just another doll, which I loathed as it took up space. I was always too preoccupied playing outside with my brother and the boys. Hence, if I should ever have a little girl, I hope she follows those footsteps. – Not that I’m knocking on Barbie either.

    As always loved this read. As always, your writing inspires me.

  3. Never allowing Barbie dolls in the house may have helped my girls know that fashion and body shape are very minor things in the scheme of life. Unfortunately, I was programed to feel “fat” all the way through my childhood and marriage. Later when I saw the photos of myself, I was outraged because I was not over weight and in fact was gently asked to leave a group I joined to work on weight issues. I was 5ft 3″ and weighed 120 pounds. The real issue for me now is not the weight but how I was duped into wasting much of my life worrying and dieting. My own daughter told me she saw what it did to me and she was not going to spend her life with those things.
    Truth be revealed that I was over 60 years old before I woke up without my first thought being: how fat am I today? No exaggeration just a painful memory.

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