I try not to march in lockstep with any movement, and I split with mainstream feminism over Barbie. The complaint about how her “impossible body proportions” made little girls feel bad about their own just struck me as silly. I guess you could find one or two women out there who could trace their body dysmorphia to a foot-tall plastic doll they played with as children, but it’s my experience that pretty much every woman alive has something about her body that she doesn’t like, whether they played with Barbies or not. So there.
I had a Barbie. And I had a Francie, who I always thought was Barbie’s friend but Barbie fan sites tell me I’m mistaken: She was Barbie’s “modern cousin” and wore “mod-style clothing.” Whatever. I liked her because she had long blonde hair I could brush, whereas my Barbie was the one with the brunette bubble cut, i.e. the one that terrified Sally Draper in “Mad Men.”
Anyway, I can’t say exactly when they arrived in my toy collection, but my guess is, I was around 8 or 9. I wasn’t thinking about body proportions then. My mother was a talented seamstress, and made her several outfits in addition to the striped swimsuit she came dressed in. Francie’s proportions were the same, so they shared the same clothes. And that is pretty much that, recollection-wise. The massive Barbie brand build-out seemed to trail my interest in the doll, which is to say, by the time the Dream House came onto the market, I had moved on. I had a carrying case that held the two dolls, with space in between for the clothes. The outfits were the splurge.
By the time Kate was born, the thing about Barbie that had changed most was the age period — she came into the house when Kate was very young, maybe 4? Also, the thing wasn’t to get one Barbie and a lot of outfits, but to get a ton of Barbies, period. They were cheap, and there were so many of them, you can see how the collecting mania began. (My neighbor’s in-laws were both deaf, and they all used ASL when they got together. Her mother-in-law gave her granddaughter ASL Barbie, which she was thrilled to have, but immediately told her — in ASL, presumably — that she could never take it out of the box, because it would ruin its value. My neighbor went out the next day and bought another one that the girl could actually play with. In-laws. What are you gonna do?)
Kate’s most memorable was Olympic Swimming Barbie, who came dressed in a swimsuit with a medal around her neck. You wound up a knob on her back and her arms windmilled wildly; she was a bathtub toy. She didn’t age well, and retired from swimming in a film of soap scum. There were others.
Olympic Swimming Barbie wasn’t in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which the three of us saw the other night. I…loved it. It was zany and funny and heartfelt and spot-on and just felt totally original. I read somewhere that Mattel has something like 18 more movies in the pipeline, based on their best-selling toys. I think they should shut it down now, because it’s all downhill from here. I feel especially bad for Lena Dunham, who’s said to be developing the Polly Pocket movie, which I wouldn’t see at gunpoint. Who cares about Polly Pocket? No one.
But Barbie could become “Barbie” because of all the cultural weight resting on her slender plastic shoulders, and Gerwig and her writing/life partner, Noah
Brumbaugh Baumbach, put it all together like Tetris. When I saw Kate McKinnon’s name in the credits, I couldn’t imagine where they’d squeeze her in, but they figured out a way. (She’s Weird Barbie. She smells like basement.) By the time Barbie rolls out of Barbieland in her pink Corvette, singing the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” I was utterly under the spell. My only quibble might be Dan Savage’s, who wanted a scene acknowledging all the gay boys who secretly played with Barbie, and didn’t get one. A trans woman plays Doctor Barbie, and that seemed to be the only queer shoutout in the film, unless you count Michael Cera as Allan, Ken’s friend in that stupid striped beach coat. I didn’t.
Yes, there were moments late in the second act that dragged a bit, but who cares? It was a perfect, bubblegum-pink summer movie, and that’s all I want at this point. We were all charmed.
Francie wasn’t in it, though. Midge and Skipper were. I have no memory of breast-growing Skipper at all. Does anyone else?
Anyway, I had to wait a whole week to see this movie, scrolling quickly past think pieces, etc. Why does the “spoiler alert” window close after, what, 36 hours? Not everyone can see something on opening weekend. Which is my way of saying I won’t say any more. Just enjoy it.
And have a good week.