My Barbie, myself

Cintra Wilson, Camille Paglia, Courtney Weaver and others recall their Barbie moments.

By Cintra Wilson
Published November 27, 1997 12:29AM (UTC)
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Barbie is no unconscious sexual icon to children. We were totally hip to
what a smut-primed rack she had. The first thing any of us would do around a
GI Joe would be to peel his camo fatigues off and have Barbie stare at the mound of
brown plastic where his command unit was supposed to be. Then we'd strip
Barbie real slow, replete with dialogue like, "Take off your tu-tu, Barbie,"
in a lecherous baritone.

"Oh, no, I can't!" she would twitter, porn-thirstily.

Something violent would happen; Joe would have a 'Nam flashback, or something
would make him pull a gun or compel him to rip the clothes off Barbie, who
liked it, even though she fought back.

"Let's have it, Tiger," Joe would growl.

"Oh, Joe," she'd hiss.

Then we'd clack their plastic bodies together for a hot round of inanimate
scrogging. This is the only thing you can do with a Barbie, besides dress
her, and if you weren't rich, chances are she only had a couple of outfits
anyway. We learned a lot from Barbie, in the vein of all that scurrilous
man-woman drama as-seen-on-TV. Even at 7, we knew she was a wanton,
submissive bimbo. After Joe left, she'd hang around naked for days, with her
hair all mussed and one of her toeshoes floating in the dog dish. She had no

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P O R N O G R A P H I C A L L Y__A N D R O I D__B A R B I E

BY CAMILLE PAGLIA | Barbie's arrival on the scene was well after my own childhood (when I loathed
dolls and loved swords and other Amazonian regalia). However, I have
followed her rise to power with interest, since her streamlined,
pornographically android body type was so different from that of the pudgy,
cuddly, Shirley Temple-like moppets that came before her. As someone who
worked for a college summer in the toy department at Woolworth's, I
definitely believe that toy sales are a key to the Zeitgeist. Barbie not
only became a major sexual persona influencing celebrity style from Farrah
Fawcett to Ivana Trump, but she ominously prefigured the destabilization of
sexual identity that would lead, among other things, to an epidemic of
anorexia and bulimia among white middle-class girls. She's no pushover: Barbie to me has the glittering, militant panache of
Raquel Welch in her cavewoman bikini. Adored and reviled, Barbie is a fetish and an objet de culte, eerily reminiscent of the sleek, faceless Greek Cycladic idols
that predate Christ by a millennium.

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N O - N A M E__B A R B I E__K N O C K - O F F

I don't have any happy Barbie Moments. In fact, I don't have any
Barbie Moments, never having had a Barbie. Oh, I remember asking my mother
for one, preferably with long blond hair and a fishtail evening gown. But
instead, I received a succession of no-name Barbie knock-offs. My mother,
you see, couldn't resist a bargain. Once, when I was 6, I asked her for a
Beatles album. What I got was an album of Beatles songs as sung by those
mop-topped sensations the Liverpools. As if a kid wouldn't know the
difference! To spite her, I grew up to be a rock critic.

Anyway, back to my Barbie Moment, such as it is. One day, my mother told my younger sister and me that she was taking us to the beach. A happy bus
ride ensued. However, she did not take us to the beach. She took us to the
doctor, whose office was near the beach, for booster shots. Afterwards,
apparently feeling guilty (as she damn well should have), my mother took us
to a nearby odds and ends store to buy toys. She was feeling so guilty, in
fact, that she magnanimously offered to buy me a Barbie. Of course, the
only Barbies in the store had red hair and short bubble hairdos -- all the
good Barbies got sent to real toy stores. Although this was far from the
flowing-haired blond doll of my dreams, I accepted my mother's peace
offering. Some time later, I learned that the doll she had bought me wasn't
even a Barbie, it was a Midge. So there you have it, the Barbie Moment that
made me the neurotic, suspicious, beach-phobic person I am today.

Is it any wonder I prefer Jane West?

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V E R B O T E N__B A R B I E

BY KATE MOSES | The "Verbotens" were from Kansas, which was as exotic as anything I'd
ever known in the small, rural California town where I grew up. They moved
to the back end of our cul-de-sac right after I completed second grade, and
I spent that summer lugging my Barbie Dream House up the sidewalk to their

We played at their house because mine was too frightening. My parents'
marriage was unhappy and it made me an anxious child. I wore undershirts
and shorts under my dresses and rubber-banded my knee socks so they'd stay
up. I didn't know why, but I didn't like to play with my Barbies: Something
about Barbie's gratuitously female body made me deeply uncomfortable, as
did Ken's undifferentiated pubic lump. If I
had to play Barbie, I played with Skipper, the flat-chested little
girl doll with long blond hair who was supposed to be Barbie's kid sister.

The opposite was true of the Verboten girls, who practically vibrated
with premature hormonal energy. I believe it was one of Ursula's accounts
of babymaking that led to our stripping all of the dolls, including
Skipper, of their fascinatingly cunning clothing for the purposes of
examination and discussion. "Barbie and Ken are married, so let's put them
in bed together," Ursula suggested, but the bed that came with my Dream
House was only a hard plastic single with a pillow molded onto it, so the
dolls kept falling off. "We'll pretend," said Heidi, salvaging our play by
running to the bathroom for a face cloth.

When she returned, she handed it to me. "You put them in bed together,
Kathleen," she said, and though Heidi's urging had the ring of genuine
playtime to it, Ursula's seconding did not. "Yeah, you do it, Kathleen,"
she said darkly, "but make sure Ken is on top."

My knees were sweating under the rubber bands by this time.
I leaned over the dolls, picked up the face cloth and took Ken in my
hand. I was just draping the face cloth back over Barbie and Ken
like a one-man tent when all the air got suddenly sucked out of the
room as Mrs. Verboten yelled, "What the hell is going on in here?" Her
mouth had tightened like a sphincter around her cigarette and she ratcheted
my arm up and out of its socket and launched me toward the front door.
After kicking the screen door open she handed me the Dream House.

"You're a bad influence, Kathleen Moses," she hissed into my stunned
face. "You're not a nice girl, and I won't let you play with my children

It was all right if I was banished from the Verbotens', I thought on the
way home; in fact, I was sort of relieved. But the not-nice girl and the
bad influence part bothered me. I thought I was a not-nice girl and a bad
influence, too. I had just been hoping nobody else would notice for a

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M A L E__I D E A L__O F__A__W H O R E__B A R B I E

BY COURTNEY WEAVER | Like most little girls, I was fascinated by Barbie's breasts. Whenever I
got a new Barbie, I would immediately take off her little top and stare at
those giant, unproportionate mammary glands. They looked as odd to me as if
she had three legs, or horns growing out of her head. Would I have breasts
like that? I hoped so.

Then when Growing Up Skipper was introduced, the charm with Barbie's
breasts ended for me. I didn't like to see them sprouting up gradually, I
didn't like to think that something similar was going to happen to me. I
just liked Barbie's breasts the way they were: fixed, huge, pert, immovable.

I guess another thing I wanted to say about Barbie is how sexualized she
was. Even as a kid I knew the doll reeked of sex! What
were those Mattel people thinking? They surely must have known
that this female icon they were pushing on little girls was in actuality the male ideal of a whore.

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D A M N__T H E__T O R P E D O E S__B A R B I E

BY STEPHANIE ZACHAREK |Some people might say that Barbie did a very bad thing to me at a
very young age. It had nothing to do with body image per se: In fact,
my older sisters and I used to ridicule Barbie's body, her torpedo breasts
and her chevron waist. "Who looks like this?" we'd say, pointing and
laughing, because even at 4, I realized she didn't look like any woman
I knew. Now I look at her body and I think of her as if she were a
car: streamlined, like a Cadillac with fins -- a marvel of industrial
design, not the devil's tool to keep me submissive and confused.

But anyway, Barbie did work her voodoo on me, and she continues to
work it to this day, because her wardrobe and her accessories inspired
in me a wild and unruly love for clothes. The store-bought Barbie outfits
-- they had names like "Midi Magic!" and "Fab City" -- cost a small
fortune, and I prized them; the little plastic shoes you could get in
packages of five or 10 pair, and I hoarded them. But most of my Barbie's
clothes were homemade, either by myself, my sisters or someone else. There
was always a table at the local farmer's market -- I grew up in upstate New
York -- with dozens of homemade Barbie shift dresses for sale, fanned out
like peacock feathers. And once you figured out how to finesse the
darts -- damn the torpedoes! -- Barbie clothes were easy to make. Polka
dots, far-out paisleys, fake Pucci prints -- Barbie could have it all. And
before I knew it, my Barbie case was bursting with magnificent little
outfits that Barbie could never have enough dates to wear. Kind of like my
closets today. She's an evil influence, that Barbie. Damn her and God love
Stephanie Zacharek writes about movies and books for

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N U D E__B A R B I E__I N__A__V I S E

BY LISA PALAC |I had all the Barbies: Barbie, Ken and Skipper, regular and Malibu; Stacy, Barbie's British friend who said things like, "Smashing!" when you pulled the string that came out of her neck; Francine and P.J., and Christie and Brad, the Black Barbies. I even had some kind of Hippie Barbie who wore a tie-dye midriff and bell bottoms along with a fake suede headband and fringe vest. The best part about Hippie was that she was this crazy, multi-jointed doll that came with a 45 called "I'm Happy, I'm Barbie" and a battery-operated platform -- when you stuck her feet in the slots and turned it on, she did a frenzied, Woodstock-style dance. I had almost every Barbie accessory, too -- the two-story house, the dune buggy, the camper, the swimming pool -- and a huge trunk of Barbie clothes, which cost my parents a small fortune.

Despite this paradise there was, however, a Barbie problem. I kept breaking their legs off. The first time it happened, I was making P.J. do the Chinese splits and CRACK! Her leg came off at the hip. Next, Barbie was doing a hi-karate side kick and CRACK! Same thing. A different day, another Barbie accident. My father tried to fix the dolls by gluing their legs back on and then clamping them in a bench vise until the glue dried. It didn't work. Now their broken legs were completely immobile from the knee up. While I was disappointed about their legs, I was extremely inspired by the sight of a nude Barbie in a vise. Why, these Barbies didn't want to be cheerleaders or black belts -- they wanted to be punished! They wanted to be tied up, bossed around and then blackmailed by Ken and Stacy. They wanted an evil baby sitter. And I, of course, gave them exactly what they asked for.

Lisa Palac is the author of the "The Edge of the Bed" a personal history
about sex and pop culture, due out this Spring, and the producer of the
erotic Virtual Audio series Cyborgasm.

Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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Camille Paglia Stephanie Zacharek