BARBIE AND ME

February 6, 2003

 I’m going to say it out loud: I love Barbie. THE Barbie, Mattel’s darling. She has a prominent role in A PIECE OF HEAVEN, a thread that was one of the delights of writing this book (there is always some little surprise of this nature in every book)–there she was, running narration on Luna’s life.

As she’s run narration on mine. She first arrived in my world the Christmas of 1963, in her very own special carrying case, with tiny hangers and a drawer full of shoes, and ever since, there’s been a special connection between us. First of all, there is the fact that we were born the very same year and shared a name. (I also once believed, because my mother told me so, that the song, “Barbara Ann” was written for me.) I was Barby for many years, until I went to seventh grade and wanted to grow myself up as fast as possible.

Barbie runs in a thread through my childhood–when I was six, my main goal was to grow up and go on “ocean liners” as Barbie in the classic black-sparkle, shoulderless evening gown. I carried my traveling case, with an ever-expanding collections of Barbies, to my friend’s house around the corner from my grandmother. On my way back once, I slipped into one of those ditches people dig around their lawns and sprained my ankle terribly. Barbie kept me company in my confinement. My sister was never the fan of Barbie as she was of baby-dolls, but we worked out a system of sharing play time that worked for both of us.

There is a lot of conversation about what Barbie led us–poor, misguided girls–to believe about ourselves and our bodies. She is blamed for everything from anorexia to the rash of breast implants. I don’t know about anybody else, but it wasn’t Barbie’s breasts that interested me. I mean, yeah, they were necessary to fill out the evening gowns properly, but I certainly never compared her chest to that of my mother or the women on television (who, now that I think about it, looked a lot like Barbie in their cone-shaped bras and cinched waists) and certainly not myself. What I liked where her shoes, her accessories. I liked putting straight pins in her ears for earrings and splurging on fishnets for her legs, endlessly dressing her up and redressing her for another occasion. And when she was in the right outfit, then she was ready for adventures. Not parties—gawd, no. She traveled. She met dashing men (not Ken. As so many others of my generation did, I borrowed my brother’s GI Joe. He had real hair.) and they tried to discover her secret (she was a spy). Once in awhile, Joe kept her from going over a cliff, but mostly she didn’t need him.

It says something that my sister loved the baby dolls and I loved Barbie. She grew up to become a nurse on the pediatric ward. I’m a romance writer. It wasn’t our choice in in dolls that predisposed us to our eventual professions;it was the other way around. We were born with certain interests and our choice of dolls reflected that.

Bottom line: I love Barbie. I suspect I am not alone. The Barbie thread in A Piece of Heaven is just for us. Enjoy.

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