Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Barbie is Turning 50

I was eight years old when I first met Barbie and I wanted a life just like hers. She had a boyfriend, Ken; a best friend Midge; and a lot of clothes. From Barbie I learned a sartorial approach to life: You need only to have the right outfit and the life to go with it will appear. Buy a poofy dress and you get a date for the prom; plan a trousseau and marriage will follow; buy the right suit and a career would materialize. But in a few weeks Barbie is going to turn 50 and I don’t think she’s prepared. Most women know that a closet full of cute outfits --or even a dream house-- isn’t enough for this time of life. So here are some things I’d offer Barbie for 50.

The first thing she needs is a new best friend. In the 1960’s Midge was the perfect friend for a pretty girl: friendly, loyal and slightly less attractive. Barbie now needs friends with flesh on their hips and shoulders she can cry on. In our 50’s we cry for each other, pray for each other and show up when the bad stuff happens.

This leads to another essential for Mid-Life Barbie. Mattel could offer, “Barbie’s 12 Step Program”. Every woman eventually needs a support group. But which program for Barbie? Clearly she has a compulsive shopping problem. But it’s also possible that Overeaters Anonymous would be her group. That’s for anyone with an eating disorder. Maybe AA? I’ve never seen Barbie drunk but she does have a lot of cocktail dresses. Al-anon might help too. Barbie was always kind of rigid and she could never settle on a career. She’s tried to be so many different things at the same time; she’s like a chameleon on plaid. Al-anon could help with that. This package could come with accessories like a tiny coffee pot and ten folding chairs. It will be easy for Barbie to fit in; she doesn’t have a last name anyway.

Even though dating was Barbie’s main preoccupation she’s always had a job. She was a nurse, a doctor, even an astronaut but like most women I know Barbie is still trying to decide what to be when she grows up. But at this important birthday I have to tell Barbie that there is another kind of work coming her way. In her 50’s it’s time for community service. At this age it’s no longer about adding to the resume. She won’t need to buy new clothes for this; there is no “Barbie’s Day at the Food Pantry” ensemble. Service looks and feels good all by itself.

What else would I include in my toast to Barbie’s birthday? I’d thank her for her fashion guidance. Barbie taught me about matching purses and shoes--even if the shoes were kind of slutty, but I’ve learned some things of my own about putting yourself together after 50: Barb, the good stuff is not in your closet. At our age it’s the heartbreaks and the losses and the mistakes that make you an original. I’m not talking about any pastel faux pas here; I’m talking horrid, messy, head-shaking mistakes. Those, when worn with a little self-forgiveness and a lot of gratitude, are what become the finest accessories for a woman in her 50’s.

Granted, this may be asking a lot of a former fashion doll. But Barbie has hung in there for 50 years. She has knees that bend now. And she’ll need them. It isn’t easy being plastic.

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