When I am hungover all my rules dissipate: “Of course you can eat marshmallows on toast. You want to dip your marshmallows in melted chocolate? Go for it, just close the door after you. And don’t leave the element on.”
Once we got up – much later– Bob and the ‘Dactyl were on the couch, nutella all over their faces and they had gone onto YouTube and watched Barbie & the Dreamhouse.
For three whole hours.
Ug. I have issues with Barbie; her princess-ness, and her proportions. I wouldn’t let the ‘Dactyl have a Barbie bag when she started school. I’m protecting her I told myself—from desiring the ludicrously unobtainable glamorous promise that Barbie offers and getting screwed up that she can’t obtain it without removing her intestines.
Yet they had just watched 120 minutes of her dreamy world. Damn it, I was being inconsistent. By sober light of day, I am reasonably principled. After wine, all I have left is the path of least resistance.
“Functioning alcoholics,” Choppy likes to call us. I wasn’t feeling very functional though.
Post iPad all the ‘Dactyl wanted was to watch more Dreamhouse. Telling her Barbie wasn’t a very interesting character and nowhere near as cool as Merida (Brave) or Princess Leia (Star Wars) didn’t help. “She’s overly concerned with appearances, she’s vacuous,” I tried. After explaining what vacuous was the ‘Dactyl looked at a sparkly, rainbow-coloured Barbie book somebody gave us and told me she didn’t look empty.
My head ached. Path of least resistance. That’s me. Marshmallows on toast anyone?
Later we found the ‘Dactyl in front of the mirror, gazing at herself for an age. “It’s Barbie,” I wailed. “She’s poisoned her – what will happen at 14 if she’s doing this at 5?”
“Hungover parenting,” announced the Dimple. Helpfully.
(Yes it’s a phenomenon. Actually if you need tips on how to get through it then I like Matt Heath’s take on it here.)
“It’s not my fault – Barbie’s a force bigger than both of us!” I retorted defiantly.
Hungover parents bitching at each other is a common outcome.
Two Barbie’s are sold every second somewhere in the world. With 11,515,944 fans on Facebook and 125 million+ DVDs sold since 2001, she’s not just a doll, she’s a movement. According to Mattel, her creator, Barbie’s a role model because she’s never been married, up the duff, has represented 40 different nationalities, has had 130 different careers including going to the moon before Neil Armstrong, becoming a CEO, and running for President in the US.
Sigh. She’s got great PR. But she’s got absurd tippy toed feet. And she doesn’t seem to have any career in The Dreamhouse except for over-achieving party planner.
That night over dinner, still mildly twisted with guilt, I introduced a game where everyone had to say one compliment to everyone else.
“The ‘Dactyl is funny,” said Bob. “Mum care’s about what happens to us,” he continued. Great, I thought, top round.
The ‘Dactyl started with the Dimple’s farts, which we all had to admit are impressive. And then she said she liked my fat belly. Oh nice. Thanks. I suggested she might like to compliment someone on the inside, not exteriors. You know, going a bit deeper than fucking Barbie…
The Dimple rolled his eyes. He hates playing namby pampy feeling games.
“I like Mum’s snot” she said. “That’s on the inside.”
The Dimple cracked up, triumphant.
As I laughed at her, and myself, it made me realize that while Barbie is ridiculous, my fear that she’ll screw up the ‘Dactyl is equally ridiculous. Six square inches of plastic shouldn’t get that much credit.
Not letting the ‘Dactyl watch The Dreamhouse will not protect her from the pressure she will feel to be beautiful. Or from people saying crappy things to her. Or from being dumped by some arrogant asshole or selfish cow. And that when her heart is shattered she won’t wonder what’s wrong with herself when she looks in the mirror.
Banning Bob from Barbie won’t protect him from desiring the unobtainable blonde bitch at school. Or protect his heart from some future girlfriend who will dump him because she doesn’t like his left ear (which is wonderfully elfish but I am slightly biased).
Experiencing pain and pleasure is part of life.
All we can do is get them to think, and question—to look at Barbie and Ken’s world and know it’s not real. Even if it was real, understand it’s not all about being beautiful and shiny and having a walk-in wardrobe five miles long (it’s true Barbie needs a small vehicle to get to the end), as they have stink days and lonely times and days when everything is hard. Even their appliances break. Nothing is perfect. And what’s important to Barbie and Ken is what’s important to everyone: feeling loved, have someone to love, and treating each other well.
And when they’re old enough I’ll show them photos from Mariel Clayton.
After Barbiegate I was telling Choppy about it – over red wine of course – and he said, “they’ll never think life is meant to be perfect with a dysfunctional example right in front of them.”
Next Saturday night I’m setting up Star Wars on the tele before we go to bed. May the force be with you all (and not pounding in my head).
PS. Recently I was interviewed about barbie dolls for Sunday magazine, here’s the full story.
PPS. My favourite thing on YouTube is this clip – Eddie Izzard’s take on the Death Star (guaranteed to cheer up the foulest of moods).