Barbie turned 50 this week. (She looks good for her age, doesn't she?) As I was reading a bit about Barbie's history I got to thinking how she hasn't really changed much, in 50 years. When she appeared, in 1959, it was to a storm of controversy over her sexuality, but today you don't hear that so often anymore, or at least I haven't. Then again, there's a lawmaker (a man, I might point out) in West Virginia trying to get the dolls banned from the state. For the most part, though, I think we, as a culture have changed, since we first met Barbie.
I know I have changed.
I remember playing with Barbie. She was beautiful, had a handsome boyfriend, and could be anything--a doctor, a fashion designer, a princess, an astronaut--and I was so optimistic that I could be anything too. I read hopeful books, full of strong heroes and clever heroines, books where everything always came out alright in the end.
Now I study, write, work, search for internships and cross my fingers that I'll find something. I still read hopeful books, but only with heaping doses of cynicism--if it has a storybook ending, it's unrealistic. And I read plenty of books that end in tragedy, heartbreak, and failure. There's a satisfaction in watching a character's world come crashing down around them--like a nightmare that lets you experience your worst fears outside of real life.
I know life might not turn out the way I'd like for it to. I may fail to make a difference when I take over the university magazine next year. I may fail to find a summer internship this year, or a job when I graduate next May. I may fail to find that perfect guy. I may fail to raise my children well. I may fail to do anything significant in my life ever again.
This is how I'm not like Barbie. Barbie, after all, is an eternal optimist and I'm a pessimist. But that doesn't mean I can't learn something from her sunny disposition. On the flip side, Barbie has never been a writer, or a publishing exec, so maybe someday I'll be able to teach her a few things too.
Check out Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll
The first Barbie commercial (1959):
And the commercial that introduced Ken (1961):
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