When my daughter, Kayla, was five years old she was obsessed with Barbies. (Are Barbies even a thing anymore?) Pregnant with my first grand-daughter, I find myself thinking back to when she was a little girl.
“Mom, play Barbies with me. You can be anybody that you want to be.”
Like hell, I thought.
It had been a long time since I had played Barbies. Growing up, as much as I loved them, I always found it a bit stressful. The Barbies I encountered as a child were always better dressed than I was, had perfect hair and owned their very own camper. While I spent my mornings watching H.R. Puffenstuff (look it up…you don’t know what you’re missing) they were lounging around the Barbie pool with their beautiful Barbie boyfriends. It was a bit intimidating for an eight-year-old.
Whenever my childhood friend Chrissie and I played Barbies she always confiscated the best ones. Meanwhile, I was stuck with ‘my hairdresser takes drugs and then plays with scissors’ Barbie, her little sister, ‘one arm/no leg’ Skipper Barbie and ‘magic marker’ Ken. Hurray.
Despite those special memories, I agreed to play Barbies with Kayla on a trial basis for 30 minutes. I made her pinky promise that I could choose my own Barbie. My time had come. Pushing away my Barbie ghosts, my heart quickened as if Miss Universe Barbie were near. Eagerly, I scanned my choices. I couldn’t relate. There were no, ‘up all night with the baby and haven’t had a shower’ Barbies. These plastic playthings were all perfect physical specimens. They clearly hit the gym on a regular basis, had frequently hired help and benefited from monthly salon appointments and perhaps a few units of botox. They were nothing like me. Score.
Triumphantly, after careful consideration, I chose ‘Jasmin from Aladdin’ Barbie. And that’s where it all went bad. Hiding her pinky finger behind her back, Kayla’s face scrunched up and she said, “Ummm…you don’t want to be HER…” as she snatched Jasmin from my sweaty little hands. When I asked her why, she replied, “You just don’t. That’s why.” (She learned that strategy from her mother.)
I selected three more Barbies, but they were all rejected as “unfit.” My daughter finally crawled under her bed and dragged out ‘prematurely balding Ken whose feet were tragically chewed off by the family beagle’ Barbie by his ankles.
“Here,” she said. “Be him.”
Meanwhile, Kayla had a pile of Miss America contestants sitting on her lap and I had a guy with alopecia who wasn’t wearing any pants. Like any of her Barbies were going to go out with him. A pinky promise isn’t what it used to be and I was eight-years-old all over again.
It was the same old story. Her Barbies sat around the pool and talked about their perfect hair and what they bought at the mall. My Ken asked them all out on a date and they laughed at him one by one and said “no.” It wasn’t right. As a mother, I began to worry about Ken – and Kayla. Here’s a poor guy with infertile follicles, his mother lets him run around half-naked and my daughter’s Barbies are treating him like dirt. Deep down, I knew that below the rough exterior, bare butt and flat pee-pee, Ken must be a nice guy. How would I get Kayla to see past Ken’s looks? How could I get her to ignore the missing toes and the lack of proper undergarments?
As it turns out, Ken had seen every Brady Bunch episode ever made.(Again, look it up.) He can tell which episode it is by watching the first 15 seconds of the show. The girls and Kayla are impressed. Ken tells one of the Barbies that she reminds him of Marcia. Suddenly, she whisks him into her convertible (after he holds the door for her) and they’re off to the movies. The other girls are left in a lump, eating carpet. A girl shouldn’t ditch her girlfriends when she finds a good man. That was an entirely separate conversation.
After that, Kayla played with Ken a lot more. She even bought him some new clothes with her allowance and introduced him to Jasmin. Ken was invited to swim in the Barbie pool and travel with the Barbies in their camper (with a chaperone, of course.) Ken hadn’t really changed. He still had no hair, and his feet were most definitely still sponsored by our dog, Bones. But, Kayla didn’t see any of that. She liked Ken for who he was and how he treated her. Ken was exactly who he wanted to be. And no one laughed.