Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Navy Barbie" by Lyn Lifshin

March, as my local bookstore display likes reminding me, is Women's History month. I initially toyed with doing weekly blogs about this, but I never got around to it. In an odd and ironic coincidence, this month also marks Barbie's 50th anniversary.

While Barbie has been the subject of many a debate, for better or worse, she is an indelible part of American culture. She has an entire empire (dolls, toys, videos, etc). Unsurprisingly, there have also been numerous parodies, books, and poems about her in popular culture. One of my favorite poems is Lyn Lifshin's "Navy Barbie" from the book Cold Comfort.

The poem brings up some very interesting ideas regarding Barbie's image and the issues surrounding it. Besides addressing the concept that, behind the big breasts and the glamorous wardrobe, Barbie is more than just a pretty face, it also forces the question of the accoutraments that make Barbie who she is. When I was younger, I was a huge fan of Barbie and all of her accessories (car, clothes, shoes, Dream House, etc.). However, Lifshin notes that these things are certainly not as great as they may seem: the clothes are uncomfortable, and when it all comes down to it, Barbie dresses up not for her enjoyment but for the enjoyment of others.

For all of the problems and questions that Barbie brings up, I still prefer her to the Bratz dolls and to Bella from Twilight. At least Barbie eventually pursued hobbies and careers beyond mooning over the undead and cooking dinner. Happy 50th Barbie - may the Botox be with you!