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Barbietopia
by Amy Silverman

Last night, during bath time, Annabelle asked, “Mommy, what’s that movie with the big peach? I want to watch it.”

Ah, James and the Giant Peach. One of my favorite childhood books, memorialized on film by the great Tim Burton. I should have been happy, but instead I felt a little pang. Why not Barbie’s Swan Lake or Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses?

I first noticed my preoccupation with these crappy, creepy, computer-animated Barbie movies one evening when I realized Annabelle, who will be six next month, had ditched the couch for the toothbrush, while her father and I – oblivious – sat rapt before the ending of Barbie’s Rapunzel.

“OK,” I said to Ray, “this is fucked up.”

Not that I got up.

“Don’t you want to watch the end of Rapunzel?” I called to Annabelle in my sweetest mommy voice.

“No,” came the reply from the bathroom. “I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”

So I hauled my ass off the couch to read a bedtime story, and never saw the end of the movie. She hasn’t requested it since.

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We have a naughty ritual in our house, called the Good Night Video. She might not get to see the full-length movie to the end, but every evening, we let Annabelle choose something to watch. I’ve stocked her collection with all the good stuff I remember, now conveniently out on DVD, or available on VHS through eBay. She’s got Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie, Electric Company, the complete Sid and Marty Kroft sampler, and most of the Disney movies, even The Aristocats. But for a while, she insisted on the Barbie movies.

I let her. I’d given up long ago on keeping Barbie at bay. Sure, I was one of those moms concerned with my toddler’s body image. I went to a women’s college where my classmates (not me!) dyed the fountains on campus red to symbolize menstrual blood. I even marched once, in the late Eighties, in some women’s rights march. All I remember was that everyone wore a lot of purple.

And I boycotted the tall, skinny blonde till the babysitter gave Annabelle “Rio de Janeiro Barbie” for her second birthday. I couldn’t ditch the doll; the sitter would have noticed the absence. So Annabelle ripped into her Barbie, doing what I’ve seen her do to every Barbie she’s received since: take off all her clothes, except for her high heels, and parade her around the house.

These days, the naked Barbies have made their way to the bath toy pile, all but forgotten, in favor of a small stuffed teddy named Muffy Van der Bear. Muffy’s accessories cost a fortune, but I’d spend the whole college fund (ha! like there is one) to keep Annabelle off the scent of the Bratz dolls my friends with daughters complain about.

So far, so good. Barbie’s tame compared to those hussies, with their pouty lips and annoyingly politically correct racial mixes. Which is probably why Ray let Annabelle pick out Barbie’s Nutcracker at the video store. That’s what got her hooked.

Or, come to think of it, was it Ray who was hooked? When Barbie’s Fairytopia hit the shelves, he couldn’t stop talking about it. “The music in these movies is great!” he kept insisting. Actually, he’s right. It’s almost all classical, performed by fancy European orchestras. The movies almost all feature a lot of ballet, patterned after fancy New York ballet dancers. The story lines aren’t bad, mostly takes on the classics. But the computer animation is creepy, until... well... until it’s not, and you’re jonesing for a double feature of Barbie’s Fairytopia and Barbie’s Mermaidia.

We didn’t really notice Annabelle’s waning interest til Ray presented her with a CD of Barbie songs he’d bought on I Tunes. Instead, she wanted to hear the White Stripes, or her little sister’s Sesame Street CD. And after several evenings, I realized Annabelle’d rejected Barbie’s The Magic of Pegasus so many times it had fallen to the bottom of the pile.

As I settled in to watch Tim Burton’s twisted take on Roald Dahl, I thought, “Well, at least I’m raising a kid with eclectic tastes.

“And hopefully she’ll fall asleep soon, so I can turn this shit off and break out Barbie’s Princess and the Pauper.”
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About the Author:  
Amy Silverman
lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Ray Stern and daughters Annabelle and Sophie. When she's not wiping noses and butts at home, she's associate editor of New Times, the alt weekly in Phoenix, where she also spends a lot of time wiping noses and butts -- and editing. She's a contributor to KJZZ, the Phoenix NPR affiliate, and although having kids has pretty much limited her traveling to San Diego and Disneyland, she's been writing quite a bit lately for The New York Times travel section. Amy's proud to say she's been published by both Playboy and Fit Pregnancy, and that John McCain once yelled, "Can't you shut your daughter up?" at her father in the Senate dining room, to which her father responded that that was impossible. Amy likes to balance her motherfucker persona at the alt weekly by co-teaching the Mothers Who Write workshop, which focuses on memoir/fiction and poetry for mothers of all ages and writing experiences.

 

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