Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's Barbie's Birthday

And in honor of her 50th year, I am sharing with you an essay I wrote for Good Housekeeping. It was published (in a shorter and much expurgated form) last September 2008. This is the unedited version. The airport incident was cutoff from the published article. I knew it would be but I just couldn't resist adding it because 1) it's a true story, and 2) it was really hilarious.

Bringing Up Barbie

While we were pregnant with our first child, my husband and I agreed that if it will be a girl, we will never buy her a Barbie doll. We believed that Barbie is not really an appropriate toy for little girls. For one, she is not cuddly and we thought, would hardly raise caring feelings from our little girl. Two, we wouldn’t want to be inadvertently raising a fashionista with the Barbie clothes and accessories. Three, Barbie, we believed is a more appropriate toy for older kids who would enjoy dressing and undressing her with all those pretty clothes.

We also believed all the psycho-babble that Barbie will bring out inadequate feelings in our daughter, seeing how she (Barbie) is so perfect. Blonde hair, blue eyes, big breasts, small waist, wide hips, long curvy legs. (Really! Who looks like that? I never looked that way even pre-partum.) Our daughter was still in vitro and already we were worrying about her self-esteem. Plus, Barbie is a big commitment. You buy even the simplest Barbie doll and pretty soon you will have to buy into the whole package – clothes, accessories, play sets, cars and houses for little Miss Barbie.

And so we agreed. No Barbies for our would-be girls.

Our first child turned out to be a son. I am bothered that my husband and I never had a discussion about G.I. Joes. But that’s another story.

Anyway, it wasn’t too long before we had a second baby and this time it turned out to be a she. We bought the usual pink stuff for her, and thankfully, no Barbie. Success! All went well in her plastic doll-free world until she started pre-school. All the other girls in her class had Barbie bags, Barbie shoes and Barbie lunchboxes. They even had Barbie books in the school library. Much as we tried to shelter our child, she had to grow up one day and face peer pressure. That most misunderstood of all creatures – Barbie.

We never thought much of it as first. We thought Sarah was one happy child. She never asked us to buy her a Barbie doll. Until one day, we had a visitor in the house, and she told our guest, “You know what? I have a Barbie.” Our guest pretending to be interested in what a 4-year old has to say asked, “Really? What’s her name? (Yes, she really asked that.) Sarah just looked at her with a painful confused look on her face trying to deal with this disturbing fact that it seems not everyone knew Barbie.

Now we were more concerned that our child was playing with an imaginary Barbie than we were of the evils that actually owning a Barbie doll might bring. But still, we didn’t want to go all the way to actually buying into the whole enterprise. These dolls don’t come cheap as you know. So my husband came home one day, with a blonde blue-eyed Barbie knockoff. Except for the unusually big head, it had the same big hair, big breasts and big hips as the real thing. But never underestimate a child. Sarah took one look at her and promptly proclaimed, “That’s not Barbie.” “Oh, but this isn’t Barbie”, we tell her. “This is her cousin, Barba.” She looked at us with suspicion but she was more curious over the toy than figuring out her crazy parents. And then she was quite content to play with her doll.

Barely 24 hours later, Barba’s big head was nowhere to be found. Her breasts have been squeezed into her chest. And our little girl was bawling her heart out. It seems that in our pursuit to save money, we were actually going to be shelling out more. We had to get the real deal, which is more expensive but undoubtedly prettier and presumably more durable. My husband and I again had a discussion - what good are we as parents if we were to give in to something we swore would never be in our daughter’s toy box?

But then again, I saw how my daughter played with Barba. She certainly didn’t think of her as a fashion icon. She played role playing games with her. Barba was an older sister to her other dolls. She had Barba going to work as a teacher and doing mundane things as washing the dishes and doing laundry. Certainly at her age, she wasn’t thinking of being blonde, blue-eyed and sexy. She just played with the doll as she did any of her other dolls.

And so we gave in. We took Sarah to the toy store, and the awe and glee in her eyes were well worth the P500 Barbie. When our friends heard that we were fine with Barbie they started giving her Barbies for birthdays and Christmas. And soon, we had more Barbies than we could handle. It wasn’t as painful as we expected. But oh, do watch out for those little Barbie heels. So small and yet so painful if you stepped on them with bare feet.

When my sister in the U.S. learned that I no longer cringed from buying Barbies, she asked me to buy her the Manilena and regional Barbie dolls. She’s an avid Barbie collector and I even got her the more-expensive Patis Tesoro ones. I went to the US with a balikbayan boxful of local Barbies. I took pains putting different gift tags on the dolls just in case U.S. Customs questioned me about them. But the Patis Tesoro doll, I hand carried, as I didn’t want the box to be squished during transit.

At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where they ask you to turn on your cell phones and laptops, and search every nook and cranny of your hand carried items, the security lady took a lot of interest in my Barbie doll. She opened the box (oh, no! it’s no longer mint in box!), pulled Barbie out, removed her shoes, looked under her skirt, copped her breasts. My horror turned into amusement as I realized that even Barbie couldn’t escape the prerequisite body search.

Ah…the joy of playing with a Barbie doll. Sarah has a coterie of Barbies, paired up with Kens, and sister Kelly. She even has a grandmother. But the funny thing is, for all my worries, she plays with her dolls like she would a regular toy. The interest also easily wears off, and soon the Barbies are back in their boxes again minus those nasty heels which always seem to end up under my poor feet.

I still have to be persuaded to let her wear Barbie fashion though.


the dreamer said...

Hi, kapatid! Love, love this article! Galing-galing, kapatid. You really have a gift with words, which I totally envy. Your sense of humor and quick wit are always evident in your writing. You should think about submitting to the Palanca. I think you'd do wonderfully in the Essay category. Okay din naman ang pera. Hehe.

Barbies bring back a lot of memories for me. And although Barbie never gave me insecurities as a child, I did start getting body image problems with the Tita who gave them to me. LOL. She was calling me Miss Piggy when I was 5!

Anyway, so totally can relate. For all AR's geekiness, he doesn't want playing with GI Joes. As hard as we try NOT to buy Matt any toy guns, he uses other things as guns and has taken an avid interest in swords.

Hay, human, este, kid nature. You can never win. =)

Miss you!


Mei Ann Guerrero said...

Hi Lee, Very well written! Never had a Barbie doll in my life. Not because of the sensible reasons you mentioned but simply because we don't have the money then to buy one!!! LOL! I enjoyed reading this article. Take care.

bjay said...

galing mo talaga magsulat. I agree with nina, you should take your excellent writng prowess to the next level! maybe write a book with illustrations (ako na magdo-drowing!)?

see you soon! :)

Benga said...

Witty and worth reading! galing tlga, onga you should start writing a book!
Being an introvert as a kid, I grew up with Barbie as my playmate, having a mother with a soft spot for dolls, Barbie is no exception kaya I'm a happy girl, now it's my turn to buy her a Barbie, katawa dba. I owe her a playset and a Barbie doll when I come home soon ;)

Thanks for sharing and the unedited version, the airport scene is really funny :)

Liza said...

Love the article Lee! It's witty, humorous and yet so insightful. Wala na ako masabi pa kundi, GALING!