Barbie, Queen of the Apocalypse

I had a Barbie doll as a child.  I vaguely recall squirreling away my allowance until I could buy plastic haired Ken.  My mother gave me the far more wholesome Sunshine Family: Steve, Stephanie, their two babies, a cat, and a dog.  Grandma and Grandpa, too.  Multiple generations of wool-carding, pot-throwing, craft-peddling hippies.  Steph’s measurements were somewhat closer to the realm of the possible than Barbie’s.

My confession isn’t one of mere possession.  No, my confession is that I was the prescient proprietor of a piercing parlor.  Barbie and Skipper were loyal clients.  Barbie jumped on the bandwagon first.  We initially pierced her ears.  She amassed a sizeable collection of pinhead earrings.  Before I learned about wire cutters, I’d fold the pins at a ninety-degree angle and bury the point and shank deep in the vacuous cavern that would’ve housed the limbic system of Barbie’s brain.

We didn’t stop there.  Barbie is a bit edgy, at least she was back in the 70s.  She insisted on bilateral nipple piercings.  I performed the clandestine procedure.  Looking back, I tell myself I must’ve been trying to rectify the clear anatomical discrepancies between Barbie’s smooth molded plastic bosom and reality.  Tiny metallic nipples at least gave a nod to potential lactation.  The lack of areolae bothers me in retrospect, but what can you do?

One of our most memorable trips (me-n-Barbie) was to my grandpa’s home on the outskirts of Fresno, California.  Grandpa had married himself a round-faced curler-headed shrill-voiced gal named Grandma Millie who drove us around in her boat of an American sedan, chainsmoking Marlboros, while we pried one leg, then the other off the sticky plastic seat covers.  To a Midwestern girl, the Fresno heat feels like quicksand, each molecule of stifling air sealing around a body in a suffocating blanket.

Grandma Millie’s son lived in a doublewide trailer on Grandpa’s land with his wife and daughter.  The trailer perched like an alien ship, an unlikely blotch on the cow pasture.  My stepcousin, Karen, introduced me to Hall & Oates and Diet Pepsi within the dark confines of her doublewide existence.

Karen and I built a Barbie commune under the sheltering arms of the towering pine tree my mother climbed in her youth.  Bunk beds fashioned from the dense clay, a swimming pool lined with plastic.  The commune boasted only one rule: “No Horseplay!”  We giggled in girlish ignorance, titillated by potential meanings that we could barely comprehend.

Karen’s father died young, before Grandma Millie.  Fresno enveloped the farm, gobbled the apricot trees and erased the field where the cows had grazed.

Barbie, Ken, and Skipper languished in a box while I aged, marching in the obligatory Oberlin protests, letting my leg hair grow, brewing my righteous indignation at the distorted body image perpetuated by Mattel and Disney and MTV.  I thought about throwing Barbie away.  Take that Evil Toy Industry!  Trashing Barbie railed against my hardcore recycling tendencies.  I sealed Barbie, Ken, Skipper, and all their clothing, shoes, and yes, earrings in a ziplock bag, detached my childhood emotional investment, and slapped a price on the lot at a garage sale.

A girl of maybe three clutched the dolls, eyes wide with wonder.  Her mother asked for a lower price.  I resisted the urge to caution about the deleterious effects of Barbie on racial stereotyping, gender identity, and self esteem.  Just take them, I said, take them.  As if my memories were cheapened by naming a price.

Sometimes I wonder about Barbie’s fate.  Did the girl shave Barbie’s tresses into a fauxhawk?  Did she pierce her lip?  The girl must be in her twenties now.  Do her own children beg for Elsa’s dress, Barbie the Pearl Princess, and Lego Ninjago?

My Barbie probably sits in a suburban landfill with Ken and Skipper, clothing rotted away, hair munched by rats.  She sits and waits.

After the ice melts and the ozone evaporates, when the final pandemic metes out its ironically equitable justice, Barbie will rise from the ashes of civilization, Queen of the Apocalypse, wearing ceremonial robes of cockroach dung, her nipple rings winking in the merciless sun.

Musical Moment



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8 Responses to Barbie, Queen of the Apocalypse

  1. This is hilarious! Down in the sweltering heat of rural Alabama, my Barbie spurned the advances of Ken, who somehow got stuck with the pink convertible, and got herself captured by natives in the Amazonian jungle of my front porch. They’d frequently hang her naked by one leg from the end of the porch until G.I. Joe came to rescue her. Funny how I grew up to write adventurous smut. I’m sad to report that Barbie, Francie, Skipper, Joe, and their van (aka the white plastic carrying case) perished in Hurricane Katrina. (Ken had driven off in his pink convertible years before and probably married Scooter in California.)

  2. Scott Moore says:

    PK had a sunshine family too!

  3. Wende Dikec says:

    I really enjoyed this, Anne! I never dreamed of piercing Barbie’s flesh with stick pins, but I do remember playing with my dolls for hours. My Grandmother (who had three boys and had been dying to buy ‘girl’ toys for years and years) bought me the Barbie airplane, sailboat and swimming pool. My other Grandmother (my Nunny) taught me to crochet clothing for Barbie. I was never too fond of Ken, but when my brother got a scruffy, battle scarred G.I. Joe, Barbie was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. They had lots of good times exploring the Amazon in the G.I. Joe Adventure Van (my brother never wanted to play with it so I took it over). It is kind of funny that both Suzanne and I had Amazon adventures with Barbie, and with all the romantic scenes acted out between Barbie and G.I. Joe, it is no wonder I ended up writing romance!

    • anne says:

      Ah the allure of GI Joe! I crossed the street to Eric and Chad’s house to play with GI Joe and 8000 plastic army soldiers.

  4. Francesca says:

    “Kiss on my LIST”?
    All these years I thought it was “lips”!

    My parents wouldn’t let me have a Barbie, a bit of injustice I still resent and which did not spare me any body shame, sad to say. But I inflicted indignities upon Barbie with the neighbors and their dolls.

    My parents also didn’t let me
    join the Girl Scouts (fascist)
    play with guns (violent)
    eat Froot Loops (teeth rotting)
    watch TV in the daytime (brain rotting).

    I got my revenge as soon as I moved out: I sat in front of the TV eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and watching Star Trek. Then I joined the Catholic Church.
    Guns, however, still creep me out.

    • anne says:

      I am your parents! Does this mean my son will one day sit in front of the TV eating Kraft Mac & Cheese while he plays Call of Duty?

      • Francesca says:

        Ha! Maybe so… for a while? Forbidden things exert a strong attraction.
        Really, though, much of what remains from my childhood is what my parents taught me to *love*:
        ideas, words & pictures, and a zest for life, whatever flavor you like.

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