Standing on a crowded sidewalk, Santa a few feet to my left, a film crew not far away, a homeless woman tried to climb under my dress to “see what Barbie had going on under there.”
Perhaps now is a good time to mention that I was, in fact, dressed as Barbie at the time, hired by Mattel to get people amped about the unveiling of a certain department store’s holiday window display.
When I was 22 years old, I worked with a promotions company who was contacted by Mattel asking for submissions of blonde women who fell within a particular age, height, and weight range. Knowing I had the right hair color along with a friendly disposition, my boss suggested me as a candidate.
After Mattel approved my headshot and measurements, I had to pass the Barbie test. I answered “What’s Barbie’s favorite color?” and “Who is Barbie’s boyfriend?” without breaking a sweat. When it came to “What kind of car does Barbie drive?” I choked, assuming the correct answer was a pink corvette. As it turns out, her car is called the Barbie Mobile. That small stumble aside, the powers that be determined I had what it took to be Barbie, and I booked gigs in three major Canadian cities. As long as I followed the handbook, keeping my makeup soft and pink, my nails soft and pink, my demeanor — you guessed it — soft and pink (and made sure those darker roots of mine stayed blonde), the Barbie job was mine.
Costumes arrived in large plastic containers on my doorstep. Arriving at locations incognito, giant Tupperware in my arms, I would secretly put those costumes on and attend functions like "Breakfast with Barbie." I would visit toy stores. When I wore the Mattel-approved outfit, I was a celebrity. Youngsters asked for autographs, never complaining about my abhorrent penmanship, their parents holding cameras ready to capture the enchanted moment forever.
At the end of my shift, I’d huddle in an empty bathroom and put my two-for-$20 t-shirt back on, scrub the soft, pink makeup off, and ship those life-sized Barbie clothes back to headquarters, returning to my life as a semi-starving actor in time for supper.
Sure, the tiara gave me a headache after an hour or two, but overall, it was a pretty great gig — and one that may no longer be available only to blondes of a certain weight and height.
Recently, Mattel unveiled new Barbie dolls with a variety of body types. Barbie’s curvy! Barbie’s petite! Barbie’s tall! While the possibilities may not be endless or vast, they are more inclusive. What a time to be alive! It used to be that none of us saw ourselves in the impossible ideals of Barbie’s figure. Now we all can…ish.
As a veteran Barbie, I would like to share with you some tricks of the plastic trade before passing along the torch to curvy, petite, and tall women everywhere.
- Homeless women may try to climb under your skirt. The lady who climbed under mine didn’t mean any harm. I imagine she simply wanted to see the ambiguous “genitals” molded out of plastic for herself. If this happens to you, just remember: even as Barbie, you still have boundaries.
- Dads may say inappropriate things to you. Adorned in pink fabulousness and a Barbie sash, I would stand in Toys “R” Us, hearing things like “Daddy wants a date with Barbie” and “Are you $14.99, too?” At the time, the only in-character response I could come up with was, “Tsk, tsk! Ken would get jealous!” Now, that Barbie has some new bods, I think it’s time for some new attitudes, too. Might I suggest adding a “Hey, I’m not actually made of plastic. Do you really want your daughter to witness you getting punched in the jugular by her favorite doll?” to the giggle about Ken’s jealousy?
- Wings are hazardous. As Barbie of Swan Lake, I wore wings with a span of maybe six feet. I’m not gonna lie — I may have knocked a few people out with those things. When you spread your wings, watch out for everyone around you. No, wait! Those wings are definitely symbolic. Don’t watch out. Spread those babies and never mind the collateral damage. You’re Barbie, dammit. You’ve got moons to land on and public offices to run for and dates with eunuchs to go on.
- Barbie inspires children; she doesn't laugh at them. If a three-year-old boy walks head-on into a Lego display because he can’t take his eyes off of magical you, you shouldn’t laugh — until, of course, you confirm he isn’t hurt and his parents aren’t within earshot.
- There will be naysayers. When I was first selected to be Barbie, I dealt with a variety of reactions. Most people thought it was awesome and/or hilarious. There were a few, however, who looked at me with disbelief and practically sneered something to the effect of, “You don’t look like Barbie.” Those people were mostly young men whose fantasies I was probably ruining. I’m not going to pretend they weren’t right — my face wasn’t perfect, my assets didn’t defy gravity. But guess what — in the years I wore those costumes and met with hundreds upon hundreds of young fans, not one child ever told me I didn’t look like Barbie. Not a single child said my waist wasn’t small enough or my legs not long enough. And on the days when I did have half an inch of mousy roots betraying my blonde hair, they didn’t even notice.
Alas, at the age of 35, I am too old to play Barbie. Maybe one day we’ll be able to buy a Barbie who looks like Jane Goodall or Debbie Allen. Maybe then I’ll get back on Mattel’s payroll. In the meantime, I speak to the young women who resemble the new Curvy Barbie, Petite Barbie, and Tall Barbie. I say to you: the torch is yours.
May you have the courage to stop those who want to breach the blockade of your poofy gowns.
May you have the self-respect to sucker-punch those who want to treat you as though you are nothing more than a doll.
May you have the ambition to spread your wings and knock out a few people in the process (maybe aim for the dude who wants to buy you for $14.99).
May you inspire the young who are in awe of your magic — and then may you have the sense of humor to laugh as they walk into things.
Above all, may you ignore the naysayers. You might not be able to give them the middle finger because, as far as we’ve come, Barbie’s plastic fingers are still welded together (good luck ever getting a ring on it, Ken). That said, you can still walk away from their disgust on your permanently arched feet, knowing you are hot. You are capable. You are Barbie.