I was standing in the girls' toy section at Wal-Mart—a place I am not familiar with in the least—feeling more than a little out of place and getting a bit of a head rush from all the pink, like I had just eaten something way too sweet, looking for a Barbie doll to buy as a birthday present for a little Guatemaltecan I know named Chiquita. She told me she wanted one. Una muñeca con vestidos, she said. I looked at the rows of plastic princesses, some in ball gowns, some in bikinis, some with Corvettes, and some with whirlpool jacuzzis, and they all stared back at me, blankly, in the vacuous way only Malibu Barbies can: Caucasian plastic (caucastic) skin. Blue eyes.
Why couldn't she have asked for Lego instead? Or even clothes? Clothes, as difficult as they are to buy, do not give one the feeling that they are setting a kid up for some unrealistic expectations in life. A Barbie portrays something completely beyond reality: A structurally unsound hourglass figure, perfect complexion, gigantic eyes, and an opulent lifestyle. Add a handsome yet subservient and vaguely effeminate boyfriend and you have some mixed messages:
"Barb, I'm leaving you. There's someone else."
"It's Todd. I'm sorry."
"Well after hearing you two giggling in the jacuzzi the other day, it's not a big surprise. I suppose now is a good a time to tell you that I've been sleeping with GI Joe."
I can hear a voice say, lighten up—it’s just a toy and a way for a little girl to play with clothes, dress-up act out life scenarios (much like the one depicted above), and that’s true, but I can’t help feeling like I’m an accomplice to some future mental anguish. Not only are the expectations of attaining Barbie’s looks and lifestyle imposed onto little girls, but in this case it is also something equally impossible, her race.
I’m looking forward to the day when we all just look like we have great tans, but I’ll never live to see it. Nearly the entire population of Guatemala are Mestizo (Ladino) which is a mixture of Spanish and American Indian, or they are of pure Mayan descent, which means pretty much everybody in Guatemala has a great tan. Yet the people in the local advertising billboards living fabulous lives using awesome products are strangely lacking melanin, and many of these ads are locally produced and not just direct copies their North American counterparts. I don’t know why this is, but it makes me feel a little queazy; like staring into the vacuum of Barbie’s blue eyes.
Chiquita has big beautiful brown eyes and always has a great tan. So I went up and down the aisle looking at the dozens of Barbies on display trying to find one that would screw her up the least. I can't do much about the lifestyle portrayal or the creepily unrealistic body proportions but surely they are not all blue-eyed blondes? I was happy to finally find a latin-esque one, but she was wearing a really skimpy bikini that almost showed off her non-existent lady-parts, so I put her back in favour of another. She looks like this: