Barbierians at the Gate

In order to live a fully human life we require not only control of our bodies (though control is a prerequisite); we must touch the unity and resonance of our physicality, our bond with the natural order, the corporeal grounds of our intelligence. —Adrienne Rich Having contributed an essay to Adios Barbie, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I heard the ludicrous news that Mattel was suing Seal Press over, basically, an image of a pair of size 1 pink pumps. Then I realized Mattel was making our point for us: If Barbie's image is a symbol so potent that even borrowing her shoes can land you in court, what does it do to the millions of young girls who look for, but don't see, themselves reflected in it? In Adios Barbie, 28 women of all sizes, shapes, colors, sexualities, ethnicities, and aesthetics reflect on this reflection—and then smash the mirror. (Just call us Barbierians.) I think that's what pisses Mattel off. The essays in Adios Barbie go well beyond decrying a doll measuring 39-23-33 as a role model for women; in fact, they forget about Barbie almost entirely. In them, instead, we tell our own stories—the pain, humor, happiness, and wisdom of 28 women learning to accept our unique bodies and identities, to find the measure of our womanhood in no one but ourselves. No wonder Mattel cited "consumer confusion." These stories are about empowerment, not consumption. Reading the stories of my fellow authors, I am amazed at their fierce honesty and personal courage, and honored to be in their company. Deciphering the palimpsest of my own body was both scary and thrilling, in the way that speaking a secret is, and deeply satisfying in a way I could not have imagined when I first sat down at my computer. I did it because I, like most women, have a story to tell. I also did it because I want a world where my nieces, my stepdaughter—all women—can fully inhabit their bodies and fulfill their potential. Mattel's shoe fetish merely confirms what feminists have known all along—the personal is political and the struggle for control of women's bodies is ongoing. But it also signals a profound lack of imagination. I mean, when you really look at her, Barbie looks like a freak. And she's about as exciting as a glass of water. Maybe if Mattel made dolls that were as cool as real women, a book like Adios Barbie wouldn't be such a threat. Diane Sepanski is a Seattle freelance writer and editor whose essay "The Skinny on Small" appears in Adios, Barbie (Seal Press, $14.95).

 
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