With Greta Gerwig's movie about how the beloved doll Barbie became Death, the destroyer of worlds* coming out soon, there's a lot of Barbie discourse going around. I am reminded of my own Barbie story.
No, I never played with Barbie as a kid. My sister had Barbie dolls, as did my cousins. I think my sister even had a Ken doll, with preposterous stick-on facial hair. But my own Barbie story comes many years later.
It was probably 1999 or so. The CD/DVD manufacturer I worked for was still classified as a profit center, meaning our role in the corporate ecosystem was to maximize profits. (Years later we would become a cost center, where our goal would be to minimize costs.) We were all flush with cash, and the company expected us to be good corporate citizens and contribute generously to its charitable efforts.
Every year at Christmas we had a "giving tree" covered with tags bearing the names of local underprivileged children and their wishes for Christmas. You could grab one at random, or you could shop around for something that interested you. That year there must have been a major video game system release, because half the tags were kids asking for the expensive, ephemeral system. Others asked for other expensive gifts. But I found one that just said "BARBIE." This one, I thought. This one will get more than she asked for.
I stopped at Toys 'r' Us on the way home, the destination for toy shoppers, which had outlived other toy stores like Kidz and Kay-Bee, though it would itself go out of business in little more than fifteen years. Toys 'r' Us had the legendary Pink Aisle, the home of all things Barbie. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and entered the aisle, an enormous man dressed all in black, pushing a shopping cart, surrounded by pinkness.
I first grabbed a classic Barbie. Blonde, pink skin, blue eyes. About $7. I was prepared to spend much more.
Who am I shopping for? I asked myself. Is she white, black, Latino, Asian? I had no way of knowing. Will she see herself in the doll she gets for Christmas?
No problem. Even then Barbie had a broad racial diversity. I grabbed one of each and tossed them in the cart. Now she will have one that will look like her, and she can share the others.
Barbie needs clothes. I grabbed a multi-pack of clothing, and then another. She would have lots of outfit options. Barbie needs shoes. I found a shoe collection, tossed it in the cart. Barbie needs a place to store all this stuff. I found a wardrobe case. Into the cart.
Then I saw a Barbie playset. Barbie as a veterinarian, with a little girl figure and a dog. Yes, that too. That rounds things out nicely. Into the cart.
I came home and arranged everything so I could wrap it together. I taped the tag to the package and took it in to work.
I hope some little girl had a great Christmas that year.
*Maybe that's the Oppenheimer movie, coming out the same day.