by Marge Baja
I never told you, but when I was little, my mother loved to dress me up like a porcelain doll. I wore beautiful dresses with bows, polka dots and lace. When she put my hair up, it was always in elaborate ties with big plastic beads, bows, and sparkly balls.
I guess it made sense to give dolls to her own doll. She especially loved giving me Barbies. Tall, beautiful women with blue eyes and blonde hair—models. I wanted to be like them.
I always asked mom to get me dolls that looked like me.
“Momma, I want a doll with black hair. I don’t have blue eyes. Isn’t there one at the store that’s not white?”
She did try. My mom got me a beautiful brunette mermaid, and then an African American Barbie. She had black hair and brown eyes. She resembled me—almost.
When I was older, I stopped playing with dolls, but that didn’t keep me from looking at them. One day, my sister and I took a trip to Target, where we noticed Asian dolls for the first time. The store finally carried them! Of course, these girls had the same facial features as the blonde dolls. She had wide eyes, high cheekbones, and a sharp, European nose. Disappointed, we moved on to the next aisle to look at shampoo.
Why are all the dolls based on a white outline? Maybe girls like us aren’t pretty enough to be dolls.
I wanted to be like Barbie. I wanted the pink car and beachhouse. I wanted to marry a Ken and have a perfect little daughter named Ava. But I had black hair and parents who drove a black Honda SUV. We lived in the suburbs and saw beachhouses on TV. As tall as I got, my body was not going to look like Barbie’s. I could not conform to that standard.
Barbie is everything that little girls dream of being: a wife, a nurse, and astronaut, a teacher, a mother. She has outfits for every imaginable occupation, and a perfect white body with which to wear them.
At nineteen, I’m still wondering why dolls still conform to the unattainable standard of white cookie cutter housewives with long legs, nonexistent waist lines and huge breasts. Is it a girl’s destiny to strive to be Barbie, to make plastic real? To make ourselves plastic?
To be plastic, apparently, is to be better than original.