Up until the age of 10 there is nothing in the universe I wanted more than a Barbie doll. In the early 1990's in Eastern Europe, Barbies were hard to come by (at least from Mattel) so very few kids had them. But for some reason I was obsessed. It's not that I wanted to look like Barbie, I was too young for such complex anti-feminist notions its that I just wanted her. Perhaps, it was the life she seemed to have that I envied, or that demand so heavily outweighed supply making Barbie seem even more exclusive. Or perhaps I simply felt that as a kid, I had the right to own one as all the little girls in all the commercials made them seem so easy to come by and were so happy once Barbie was in their possession.
Every single day I would ask my parents if they would get me one. After a while, I eroded their nerves and my father asked me do you want to eat or do you want a doll? That reply weighed heavily on me even if I didn't get it at the time. I just could not understand why I couldn't have both. It seemed so simple. So I stopped asking. Instead, I window shopped. I would stop by the one store which carried them and stare at the selection. I would obsessively analyze commercials and all related advertisements (might explain the career choice) so it was no surprise how I reacted when I met one in person.
She was so beautiful. A celebrity I finally got a chance to meet. It stopped me in my tracks. I saw her on a shelf at a friend's house. I just couldn't control myself. The object of my affections was right there in front of me. Something inside me broke and I rushed towards her. I climbed on a chair so that I could reach the shelf and then I just stared. Partly because I was in awe. Partly because I've never seen one so close. Partly because I was trying to prove a point. But the point I was trying to prove was to my parents. I stood there for what I thought was hours (time seems slower when you are a child) so I know how awkward it looked to the guests. I stood so still (anyone who knows me knows I do not remain still for long) like a doll myself. I stood and I stared and I know that my parents saw this dramatic protest of want. But what I didn't realize at the time, what I didn't realize until just last week was that it broke their heart.
It was vaguely known to me at the time that I had relatives in America who have been there a long time. We didn't talk about it much as they had moved so long ago (before I was born) and well...you just didn't talk about relatives in America back then. Shortly after the staring incident my parents asked me to write a letter that would be going to New York City, to the very relatives I once heard about. And the contents of this letter would be me asking for the very thing I wanted most. The reason they asked me to draft this letter instead of them asking on my behalf must have been partly due to pride. Asking for something sounds a lot more endearing when it's coming from a child. These are the people who never asked anyone for anything no matter how difficult it got. Working 2 jobs, odd jobs, night shifts, whatever it took to put food on the table and stay independent. But just like something inside me broke when I saw the doll and I in turn broke their hearts; they must have been broken too as they finally broke down and asked for something without being able to give anything in return.
And so, I drafted this letter that went something like; I would love to have a doll named Barbie...and maybe some gum too, please. Gum was another guilty pleasure (still is) and was usually bought one piece at a time and chewed for hours. Sometimes even shared (gross I know, but we didn't see it that way.) A few months later "The Parcel" arrived. I tore into it with such glee I must have been salivating. And there she was. I didn't care what she looked like, she was mine. I had a Barbie doll! At the time, most of the Barbies in my country were simple. The narrow-box kind you can find in any American supermarket these days. This one was different. The box was huge and contained all sorts of paraphernalia. Shoes, masks, clothes, brushes, you name it. I didn't care. I just wanted to hold her. She was NOT going to be the shelf kind, she was going to be an adventurer, a companion. I tore into the box, ignoring all the frills and pulled her out. I immediately started brushing her hair, changing her clothes moving her pre-bent arms. I put her in the simpler outfit (why in the world would Barbie need a ball-gown, that's not practical for a jungle gym) and raced outside to play. I never let her go or let other kids touch her. But they didn't even ask. They had a hunch that this doll was different and if someone had one like this in their possession it would never be shared.
No matter what I put that doll through, she never lost her grace. This was Costume Ball Barbie. She was elegant, poised and had purpose. Though she seemed a bit out of place in my paint or dirt covered hands, she was always there for me. Soon, she would come back to HER home, to America and get a sister, a daughter, and a husband all thanks to Toys 'R' Us, generous friends and America herself. When I met the relatives who allowed me to have this gift, they confessed that they never heard of Barbie. Having 2 older sons it never crossed their mind to pay attention to the doll market. They told me they had to ask in the store what the doll was and where to find her.
I always had an image of them in that giant Barbie isle at the toy store a bit confused and overwhelmed by the selection. But then I imagine them thinking of a little girl far away who wanted one so badly that she'd write them a letter. I imagine them thinking that if this is going to be her first and possibly only Barbie, then she better be amazing. As an accidental bonus, when they sent the parcel they packaged her box next to the gum packs. Even after she lost that new Barbie smell (rather quickly, thanks our adventures) I could smell DoubleMint on her long rubber legs. I swear that smell lasted for years.
And so, I decided to do a Barbie photoshoot called The Life of Barbie In a Box. Part of the reason was due to the fact that I have moved and left my childhood behind, but part of the reason is because the doll you are seeing isn't HER. Long story short, when I was young, shortly after our move to America, as punishment (to prove that you do not get something for nothing including candy which is NOT free in stores) ALL of my Barbies and their related items were thrown away. I had a nervous breakdown and cried for days. I even dug up the trash bags outside my building to find her. It was a dramatic and sudden death of a friend that had a dramatic start and heavy sentimental value. This was done with full knowledge of her value and was designed to break my heart as I had broken my parent's long ago and now, again. I have yet to forgive this, but I am working on it.
Eventually, my dolls were replaced but they were unremarkable and so close to the thin line of teenagehood that they shortly lost their appeal and were put into storage. Many years passed and someone gave me September Sapphire Barbie as a gift as that is my birthday month. Eventually, I gave in and bought Princess Of Imperial Russia Barbie as it just seemed appropriate that I own one. But I wanted to find HER again. Even though her "death" was dramatic, the years worn down the pain of losing her and the want of her. I do not remember what caused me to start searching again, over a decade later but I searched and eventually, I found her. After a long online search (I could not remember her official title), a seller on eBay (of course) had her, and at a decent price!
The parcel came. This one, I unpacked slowly. This was a quiet excitement. A quiet joy and a private one. She stayed in the box and on the shelf next to the other 2 dolls. I finally understood why people kept Barbies on the shelf, why many friends (even in America) never took theirs out of the box. My trifecta was now complete. I finally had my doll back. The Costume Ball Barbie.
This is her face, photographed and analyzed. It's a simple face and one that still has some childish glow. I imagine her being young, around the age of 20, going to a Masquerade ball in New Orleans. She had a mask simply for fun. Her face hides nothing, he heart is on her sleeve and her curiosity is unbundled. This doll is amazing...BUT I feel no attachment toward her now. She is a clone, an oddity, much like the humans in the movie The 6th Day (odd comparison but bare with me). She is real but she is not.
Most of all, when you hold her close, she does not smell like DoubleMint...