ESSAYS

For once, Barbie stands in Midge's shadow.

Have pantyhose, will type:  a bit of memoir about the tasks, the trash, the clothes, the hose, the bosses and makeovers and endemic sexism of starting work life in the 1980s ... promising NASTY SECRETS.

"Making Friends with Midge": an essay on female friendship made manifest through Barbie

Featured in BROAD STREET:  An essay about female friendship, Barbie, and her bff Midge--in the fall 2013 issue of Broad Street magazine.  Shout-outs to my bff from high school, Leslie Hayes!  This essay received a special mention in the 2014 Pushcart Anthology.

     Portrait of my own personal vintage Barbie and Midge by Tyler Darden.

I erased myself. I was gone and forgotten, perhaps for the good, though of course I burst out weeping when I realized what I’d done.

 Excerpt

 

    “Who’s your best friend?”  Every little girl has been asked that question a dozen times.  Mainstream American culture exerts tremendous pressure to pair off, not just heterosexually, but also with a same-sex friend who will be a long-term better half.  Sharing secrets, sharing clothes, practicing kisses—harmless girl fun.  It’s one of our childhood fantasies, even if a real girl’s best friend changes from one day to the next.  “Will you be my best friend?” is tantamount to a proposal of marriage, and on every playground, at every recess, the question gets asked at least once.

    Girls need female admirers.  It’s a kind of romance separate from what most women have with men:  someone who is very much like us recognizes the best in us.  Only another girl (and I am writing primarily of heteronormative culture here) can truly understand and help us express our worth.  Even into adulthood, women feel a need for a single person with whom to share every little experience and thought of the day.  That sharing typically comes with an exchange of compliments, sympathy, and an underlying current of support and admiration, but danger always comes with offering up too much of the self.

            My best male chum tells me that men don’t have best friends the way women do. Famous male pals such as Achilles and Patrokles, Roland and Olivier, seem mostly to have been comrades-in-arms, sometimes homoerotic, not quite symbiotic.     

    I know one man who used to field those playground “Who’s your best friend?” queries by naming whichever kid his eye fell on first, even the drippy little nerd in the sweater vest. 

    A few years ago, at a destination wedding, I saw a little girl lounging in a hammock.  She watched out of a pair of ethereal green eyes as some other children played in the dirt.  When I saw her slender brown fingers fidgeting against each other, I recognized that her posture was misleading; she was tense, absorbed, and wary about what the other kids were doing.

    Her mother was also watching.  I sidled over and complimented her on her child—one of two ways women have of initiating social contact, the other being a comment on some article of clothing or jewelry.

    The mother volunteered, with a degree of candor I hadn’t expected, “She has Asperger’s.  She’s high-functioning, but she’s in third grade and she’s just starting to realize what Asperger’s means … She asked me the other day what a best friend is, and when I explained, she said she would probably never have one.”

    So that was why the girl just lay there watching other children interact.  She was absorbing the ways in which she wasn’t like them.  As a lonely kid myself, I felt for her, an overwhelming sadness.

    “She’s beautiful,” I said weakly.  It was true; this little girl who was starting to realize that she was different in a way our culture did not celebrate, a way that in fact shut her off from that culture—she was like a Pre-Raphaelite painting of a sprite, too otherworldly to belong to the injection-vinyl Mattel family.

    The mother just smiled and thanked me, acknowledging the truth inside that beauty with a sadness more profound than I could imagine.

 

 

Conception

    The original Barbie, released in 1959, was based on a willfully sexy German doll for adults:  a ponytailed strumpet called Lilli, from a cartoon series that ran in the newspaper Das Bild.  Before Mattel executive Ruth Handler brought a Bild-Lilli back to the U.S. from vacation, little girls who wanted to continue doll play with fashionable clothing had been forced to graduate from vinyl babies to paper ladies.[4]  Handler’s idea was that a three-dimensional doll would allow for much more fun, especially with learning to dress a “real” body rather than a cardboard one.  Handler pulled a Lilli out of her own travel bag and told Mattel’s other executives they were going make something just like her.

    Nota bene:  I do not intend to pass judgment on Barbie’s shape or face or what she’s done to the girls of the world.  Her 11.5 inches of injection vinyl have done me nothing but good, as far as I can tell.... 

Is it ironic or merely coincidental that I don't seem to have a copy of this essay on my computer and had to download it from the internet??

Susann

Cokal

SINCE 1372