Barbie Self-destructs

or: What Does A Woman Really Want?

I feel so silly coming here, Dr. Freud. I’ve never been to a psychiatrist before. But I can’t hold it in any longer. Are you sure you have time for me on such short notice?

But uf course, young lady. Vy don’t you lie down and make yourself comfortable? Then you tell me all about it, eh? Now vat shall I call you, Miss…?

Barbie. Call me Barbie. It’s the only name I have.

Very vell, Miss Barbie. Now vat is the nature uf your distress?

If only I knew! I mean, look at me, doctor. What more could a girl want? I have masses of blond hair, starry blue eyes, a gleaming smile. My waist is as tiny as a ballerina’s, my legs are longer than a chorus girl’s, and my bust is the admiration of everyone from Chatty Cathy to GI Joe. I drive a pink convertible, wear the latest designer clothes, and star in my own magazine and dance workout video. Thousands of adoring fans send me letters filled with praise. Yet lately I’ve felt so unhappy.

H’mm. Vy don’t you tell me about your childhood?

My childhood? I don’t think I had one. I’ve always been this age. I’ve always looked this way.

Ach, early puberty. Und how old are you now?

I’m not sure. I seem to be trapped somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two.

Vat else do you remember about your early years?

Well, I do recall my hair wasn’t always so abundant. It used to be shorter and curlier and more yellow. Now it’s a platinum cascade. My eyes didn’t used to be so wide, either, but they seem to get bigger every year, and they’ve acquired a permanent sparkle.

H’mm. You haf other physical complaints?

No, in fact I’m super fit. I swim, I skate, I ski. I’m always very good at everything the first time I try. Although one thing does worry me: have you noticed I’m always on tiptoe?


Yes, look. Even when I’m wearing flats, my feet stay arched. No matter how hard I try to flex my ankles, I can’t lower myself.

Verrry interesting.

There’s something else. It’s so foolish I hesitate to mention it, but I seem to have developed an aversion to pink. It’s my signature color, you know—pink car, pink furniture, pink clothes. In the toy stores my aisle positively glows fuchsia. But lately, it’s becoming hard to take in any shade. I find myself longing for woody browns, forest green.

So, you haf experienced some mental uneasiness. It has affected your vork?

I try not to let it. My job is to be America’s princess-next-door, every little girl’s dream of the woman she hopes to be. It’s made me terribly rich and famous, the CEO of my own corporate empire. Why should I feel unfulfilled? But a few weeks ago the phone rang when my secretary was out, and because I’m always helpful, I answered it. It was a woman from an organization called NOW, and even though we’ve never met, she was very angry at me. She said she was a feminist and I was a freak of nature. When I told my secretary, she said, “Oh, Barbie, you can forget that. They’re all gay.” But that woman sure didn’t seem happy to me. And neither am I. Do you suppose it could be job burnout?

You haf been doing this for how many years?

So long I can’t remember. I’ve tried to picture myself in a different career—medicine, aviation, social work—but my hair always gets in the way.

Vat about hobbies, activities that vould gif you stress release?

Well, I go shopping a lot. I go to pool parties and dances and dude ranches with my friends. They’re all nice people, but to be honest—I feel so disloyal saying this—their company is getting boring. We always agree on everything.

You haf no quarrels? No difference uf opinions?

No. Sometimes we worry because we don’t have the right dress for the dance or our pet is missing, but we always pitch in to solve it together.

Und your sex life?

My what?

Your sex life, your relationships vit men.

Oh, Ken, you mean. Well, we’ve been going steady since day one so I never have to worry about getting a date.

You haf consummated the relationship?

Oh no, that’s not allowed. But we hold hands and sometimes we kiss. He’s very attentive and good looking. Actually, his only real job is to be my boyfriend. Did I mention he’s blond?

Vat about other men? You haf never felt attracted to them?

Well, since you mention it…You see, a while back they introduced a black Ken, and immediately I felt drawn to him.  I guess I assumed that because of his color, he’d have a different history and personality, new ideas, bold plans. But he turned out to be just a tanner version of the original, and my black girlfriends are all as sweet as chocolate cream pie. Oh, why doesn’t anyone show some spunk?

Ach, you are getting upset. This is goot.

It is? I can’t tell you how many times lately I’ve felt like weeping, but nothing comes. How I’ve envied Tiny Tears! Do you know she can really cry? And if I feel so uncharitably towards my friends, how on earth do they feel about me? They must hate me—wouldn’t you hate someone who always got to be the star, who always stole the show? Even when it’s their birthday, I’m the one who organizes the best surprise party ever so they can thank me and tell everyone how wonderful I am. I hate myself!

Now, now, Miss Barbie. I’m sure you meant vell.

Of course, I do. I would never intentionally hurt anyone…Oh, I can’t bear it any longer. Here, look.

Vat is this? Letters?

From my fans, or so I thought. I try to answer personally as many as I can. Usually, they’re all the same: Oh, Barbie, you’re so beautiful, I want to be just like you when I grow up.  But listen to this one:

Dear Barbie,

I hate you, you liar! You said I could be anything I wanted if I tried hard enough, so I practiced and practiced for the lead in the school play. But Crystal Farley got it instead. How were we both supposed to get the part if we wanted it the same? Somebody has to be the loser, and it’s me. I bet if you saw me, you wouldn’t even like me because I’m short and stupid and have plain brown hair. If I knew how, I would kill myself.


And read this one, doctor:

Dear Barbie,

Can you please tell me how to throw up? I think I weigh too much even though my mom insists I look fine. So I give away the lunches she packs for me and don’t eat all day at school. But that makes me dizzy, and now I’m flunking two classes. My friends heard that if you eat and then throw up, you’ll still feel full, so we went in the girls’ john and tried to puke. But we can’t get the hang of it. Please rush your answer. There’s a boy I think would like me if I could lose five pounds.

                                                                                                            Love, Melissa

You see, doctor? I found these with the fan mail in my pink IN box. When I read them, I couldn’t believe they were written to me. I showed my secretary, and she tried to whisk them away. She said, “Oh, Barbie, I’m so sorry. They must have slipped through somehow.” I said, “What do you mean, ‘slipped through’? Are you saying there have been others like them?” Then she got flustered and begged me not to worry, so I went to my board of directors and demanded an explanation. They said, “Barbie, doll face, pay no attention. Every star gets crank letters now and then. The whole world loves you.” But I knew they were lying, and I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.

Und so this mail has brought matters to a head?

Yes! Now I’m always looking over my shoulder, wondering who else doesn’t like me or whether other preteen girls are gagging in bathrooms on my account. How could I have been so blind? How could anyone grow up to be like me? I don’t even have body hair! As for being rich and famous, I’ve been reading the newspapers and Ms. magazine. Do you know women don’t earn as much as men for the same job, and a lot of them live in poverty with no health care for their children? And the places they do work sound terrible. They keep bumping their heads on some dangerous glass ceiling!

So, you haf had—vat do you call it?—un eye opener.

Yes, and what’s more, I’ve found out some little girls don’t want to grow up to be like me at all. This very morning a mother and daughter were walking along my aisle in Toy World. They gazed at me and my accessories, and I smiled so prettily I was sure they couldn’t resist. The mother said, “Well, what do you think? Would you like a Barbie?” And the little girl said, “Get serious, Mom. She’s all fluff. Let’s go look at the science kits.” They walked off arm in arm, laughing. I’ve never felt so lonely in my life.

Ach, so you vish me to make a diagnosis.

Yes, please! I’ve been so distraught, so confused.

Vell, you haf a very unusual case. I detect elements uf paranoia…

Because I’m afraid no one likes me anymore?

Yah, und repression uf sexual desires…

That would be Ken.

Yah, leading to loss uf sex drive or libido…

So that’s what the fine print in my contract means!

As vell as job-related stress. Putting all these clues together, I believe you haf a unique malady. I vould call it…Pedestal Syndrome.

Pedestal Syndrome? What does that mean?

It means you are tired uf standing on tiptoe for everyone to praise und admire. Sure, it is nice to be looked up to, but ven you stay up there so long, all alone, hmpf! You feel like nothing but a hollow statue, a doll. You vant to get down off that pedestal. You long to be real.

Me? Real? But I wouldn’t know how. Plastic is so…safe. Yet that is what I’m feeling, as if I were ready to break out of a mold. It’s terrifying, exhilarating. Oh, I want to be free! I want to wear worn-out jeans, not the designer kind with fake knee holes, but jeans I got ragged all by myself. I want to earn a college degree and go places alone, without Ken or a single one of my friends. I want to have sex, or not have it, does that make sense?

Perfectly. But I must varn you uf the risks. Reality is not easy. Think uf all you vould be giving up. How vill you handle PMS, split ends, Saturday nights vit no date?

I don’t know, but it’s too late to turn back. I feel an incredible breakthrough coming. Oh, help me, Dr. Freud, help me! Look, my ankles are starting to bend!

No, vait! Do not force it! You must go slowly. I fear your psyche cannot endure the strain!

Stand back, world! Here I come!


Ach, Miss Barbie, vat has become uf you? Holy mackerel! Plastic everyvere! Never haf I seen such destruction! Vat a blot on my record to haf a patient explode. Und just ven she was making such progress…Here are her pink panties und a lock uf blond hair. Vell, the cause uf death is clear: plastic fatigue. Poor Miss Barbie! Perhaps ve can recycle her into Tuppervare. But now I must sveep up this mess before my next appointment…There, that is better. Und vere is the file for the new patient? Ah, here: a mild-mannered reporter vit a fear uf telephone booths. Thank heaven! Is goot to have an easy case now und then.

(Copyright©Arliss Ryan, 1990)

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