I read an article on Huffington Post this morning that inspired this post. Click here to read.
A few months back I was shopping for my friend's kids Christmas gifts, and while in the massive toy store it struck me ... do her parents allow her to play with Barbie? I've bought plenty of gifts for kids in years past, but this was the first year that it hit me how much Barbie impacted my own life, and the responsibility I had to respect my friend's wishes on what they chose to expose their children to.
I'm (clearly) by no means a feminist, but I have to admit that this year a lot of things have hit me as far as a woman's depiction in popular culture. Growing up in Connecticut I had every Disney movie on VHS, and if I was lucky enough, a new barbie on a quasi-regular basis. That whole pretty pretty princess thing was my jam. Contrary to my tomboy tendencies, I so badly wanted to look like Barbie one day, or any of the Disney princesses. They were all so beautiful, and like every other little girl, I would even undress them and compare myself to them.
Barbie was so thin, with these super long legs, and how can I diplomatically put this ... she's a ...
One day, I would think, one day I'll look like this.
Images of women in movies and magazines only confirmed the societal version of the ideal woman ...
It's like fitting a square peg in a circle hole. I just don't look like that, I thought staring at my own body in the mirror.
My parents and various "real" life role models reminded me that "beauty was only skin deep," and encouraged me to get a good education and not rely on the superficial things in life.
All of that was great to hear, but by the time high school hit, I was still super short, slightly awkward looking, and often referred to as "cute/smart one." I didn't just want guys to see me as the cute/smart one, I wanted to be lusted after (whatever lust is defined as in the eyes of a naive 14 year old girl). My best friend at the time wore a lot of makeup and was considered "the hot one," so I casually started borrowing more and more of her clothes (in addition to some wardrobe additions that my parents weren't aware of), and slowly but surely I was shedding all shades of cute and introducing the sun to newly formed parts of my body.
I learned how to apply make up, took more of an interest in fashion, but by the time I was done with high school I was still 5'3, and light years away from looking like the girls on TV, or Barbie. Again, I knew deep down intellectually that none of it mattered, but if I had the choice at that age to be hot, or be smart - it was a no brainer (no pun intended).
When I was 17 I moved to NYC and studied at Lee Strasberg. The first day of my writing class, I recognized a familiar face ...
It was Carmen Kass. At the time she was a Victoria's Secret model, and the main "it" girl for Express (which was my favorite store). Like a loyal puppy dog, I sat down next to her and during break, introduced myself. Over the semester we did become friends, and I remember one day having coffee with her while sitting on the stoop outside of school. She was wearing shorts, and as I reached for my cup, my wrist was right next to her thigh. Holy crap, I thought, her thigh is barely bigger than my arm. Trippy.
As we became friendlier she would tell me about parties she went to, and adventures she had with men that I had plastered on my walls. She's a really down to Earth girl, so even though she was totally nonchalant about the whole thing, my 17 year old brain could barely believe that this lifestyle really does exist and these beautiful people really do "have it all."
Much like the projections of Barbie, and the Disney princesses she was living a happily ever after one cover at a time, and I wanted that.
Somewhere in my late teens, early 20s, I finally had my growth spurt and after working out shed any lingering "cuteness." By the time I started actively dating in my 20s, I vividly remember guys telling me on dates that they didn't understand a lot of times what I was saying. (Growing up with a mother as a technical writer, I developed an extensive vocabulary at an early age.) Guy after guy would comment on certain words that I would use and almost immediately I developed a complex about it. I was visually more of the "ideal," but intellectually it was still too much. Mind you, this was also at the time of the celebutard where Jessica Simpson was making millions being a dumb blond, and Paris Hilton asked if Wal-mart sold walls.
I did what every other girl at that age would do in that situation, and I too played dumb. I eventually did end up with what I was after, a boyfriend, but I wasn't myself. I was playing this part of who I thought I should be, based on what I thought guys wanted, versus being who I was at my core.
Much like my childhood playmate, who has had over 150 jobs, owns her own dream house, car, and ran for president - I was plastic.
I am by no means writing this pointing a finger at pop culture or at Barbie, but rather for the first time taking responsibility for myself, and any potential future generations I could impact. I wanted to change myself in order for guys to like me because clearly I was struggling with a very low self esteem; it doesn't take a rocket scientist (a job also held by Barbie) to figure that one out.
It's not as if pop culture is going to change over night, but my desire to be exposed to it certainly is. Who wants to live in a static world of plastic when there are so many vibrant dimensions to explore? Barbie even had a layout promoting her #Unapologetic campaign in Sports Illustrated. DOES ANYONE ELSE SEE THE IRONY IN THAT?!?!
Yes, I may live in a Barbie world, but I am not a Barbie girl. I want to be strong, not just thin, and I want my worth to be based on merit not just a quick outfit change and painted toe nails.
Fuck, how did we end up like this?