The Sordid Life of Barbie and Ken

My Barbie dolls lived a sexually charged and politically incorrect life. These dolls were loose in the moral department. They had sex, affairs, and a promiscuous teenage sister named Amber (Skipper) who wore no underpants and snuck out of the bedroom window and into new wave concerts. My Barbie dolls lived a life of scandal that would only have been shown on Network TV after 9 pm. Perhaps they could have rivaled Dallas for ratings.

I would build elaborate houses in the living room with doll furniture that Santa would bring me: hard plastic couches, always in pink with tiny soft pink pillows; a dining room set with a table that had two different settings, one of which was a shiny mirror that was only for formal meals. The furniture that I didn’t have was created from household items. When I needed a coffee table, I could create one using beef bouillon cubes. The gold cubes were perfect when stacked, and flashy enough to appeal to Barbie’s ascetic. Her bed, originally a shoe box, was filled with paper towels and toilet paper to make it extra plush. I finally received a real Barbie bed with a pink canopy and covers; in that bed Barbie and Ken had sex, always in the missionary position.

In the fourth grade we moved to Farley and my Barbie became part of a blended family with another girl’s Barbie family. They vacationed together, swimming in an above- ground pool, the kitchen floor getting wet as we pretended that they were diving from a high dive. The water sloshed over the sides as my doll flailed and pretended to drown. The Ken doll from the other family saved her. Amber would try to wear Barbie’s clothes. The clothes were much too adult and ill fitting, but Amber wanted to be older and there was no stopping her. The doll families continued to vacation together until my Ken doll had an affair with the neighbor Barbie. They would meet in undisclosed locations to sneak time together. I don’t remember how long the affair lasted, but I do remember the aftermath. Barbie ran Ken over with the powder puff pink jeep. I ripped off one of his legs and wrapped toilet paper and band aides around him. Ken was now an amputee and would never cheat again. From that point forward I would throw Ken to the side and say he was “at work.” He had betrayed his Barbie family and was no longer important.

I would play with these dolls for hours, inventing story lines and make believe worlds. The story lines and sets were elaborate. Amber’s favorite band was The Stripes and they were new wave. I, to this day, have no idea what “new wave” is or was. I only know that it sounded like something someone cooler than me would listen to. New wave was to Skipper as Elvis Costello is to me. Looking back I am fascinated with the way I played and created these worlds. My family was functional, but the world of Barbie was anything but. Amber longed to be older just like I did. Barbie adopted Cabbage Patch Kid action figures and I wanted to adopt someday too. Their lives were complicated but glamorous. In my mind these stories needed to be told and this was a safe way to tell them. As I became older I didn’t have the safety of Barbie to tell my stories through and I became a middle school liar. My lies were woven into intricate patterns that would rival any tapestry.

Now I sneak and watch Saidee play dolls and I know that the stories are just as torrid. More than once I have caught naked dolls next to each other and I say, “I know what is happening here.” Only to get a reply in a slightly panicked voice, “They are just laying there.” She is using her imagination and I am deeply happy that a five year old with a Kindle Fire, access to an Ipad, Direct TV, and a vast DVD collection still plays dolls and creates make believe worlds.

As I write this, I have a story that I want to tell. A story about a girl: the girl is crippled by self doubt and anxiety and she scratches words onto her arms with her hangnails. She never does any permanent damage, just scratching enough for the slow sizzle of heat to ease her mind a little. The girl goes through her daily life dreaming of big adventure. She holds her car key tight in her hand, ready to take off and live the life she wants. The story is there and I want to tell it. I just wish the story telling was as easy as it was when I played Barbie in the fourth grade.

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