All the Barbies Look Like Me
For as long as I have been alive, in this vessel, I have looked like a doll. I probably will continue to look like a doll until my skin starts to wrinkle. I have a round face, no cheekbones, big green/grey eyes, lots of blonde hair and petite porcelain doll lips (leave, the button nose-not present on this chick).
At no point have I ever thought about my relation to dolls and what dolls represent until recently. Naturally one of the first lessons you learn in womens studies class is about toys and how toys are used to oppress people by teaching children societal rights and wrongs-and racial rights and wrongs. I can’t necessarily remember owning or seeing any directly racist toys as a child but I did see many many many white blonde dolls. I never thought anything about it. My mom was a blonde beauty with a body like a young Pamela Anderson, my sisters were both beautiful blonde little girls with blue/green eyes. Not only that, but I grew up in Littleton, Colorado as a kid. I honestly can’t even remember seeing any nonwhite kids. Not to mention (and I don’t know how it is today) but “history” class in the 90s was one hundred percent shameless white washed bullshit.
A few weeks go my friends and I were at Target shopping for the High Priestess show. We wanted to buy dolls that represent ourselves for the altar. So, Sara-a brunette and Sarah-a redhead combed the aisles looking for our little self reflective tokens. I had mermaids, princesses, fairies, doctors, babies, shop-a-holics-all blonde, all blue eyes, all of them literally did look like me. As for my friends, nothing. There was maybe one or two crappy brunette dolls. At this level we were just trying to find anything that isn’t blonde and white. Anything! Of course, by obligation, there were some black barbie options but scarcely. This is Chicago, not Scottsdale, little girls have dolls to remind them that they are being hidden and oppressed.
That experience disturbed me. It’s not like I don’t know about oppression and racism in America (or, as world view)-I’m an educated aware young woman. But, to see it in such a tactile way, that made me reflect on my own childhood and my own upbringing as a woman who for all intents and purposes is good-to-go in terms of appearance by societal standards.
I really never had to think about the fact that as a child I was constantly seeing myself reflected back at me. My image was perpetually affirmed by everything I saw on TV, in magazines, in toy stores, Disney cartoons and then directly-in my family. Dolls are disturbing. The need to use an icon of a human being to show children what to be and what not to be is horrifying. There would be no other purpose for dolls except that. If there weren’t dolls children would play with something else, kids are smart and they are more imaginative the less they are given to work with. I never liked dolls as a kid because being a woman wasn’t something I was interested in, I didn’t really care for humans or babies in general. I liked dogs. I pretty much only liked dogs and I wanted to be a dog. Hey, I was a white kid, you want to be a dog? The sky is the limit. No one ever told me I couldn’t be a dog and I never felt like there was anything barring me or holding me back.
And furthermore-my only relation to Barbies later on in life was hateful and destructive as a young punk kid. Even though I found feminism at the age of 10 I didn’t get how beheading Barbie dolls among other things is directly representative of violence against women…a strange sort of internalized misogyny, if Barbie is the enemy and I look like Barbie, then what the fuck am I doing? What’s more is I was at least with it enough as a kid to refute dumb blonde jokes. That’s the closest I can get to image oppression that directly targets me. Dumb blonde jokes hurt my feelings and upset me…yet, with my internalized misogyny it was still a “me vs. them.” And then I dye my hair pink. Boom. I am not like “you” girls. How backwards and pointless is all of that? Making a huge fuss out of nothing, that is being white, looking for something to take issue with, some way to separate ones self rather than being self actualized.
In terms of my relation with race as a kid, like any young girl in the late 90s TLC was my fucking JAM. I loved Left Eye the most, I was straight up obsessed with her. I never thought I couldn’t be Left Eye. I saw her as different than me, but never unattainable. It sickens me to know that this is a symptom of serious white ignorance. I can want to be black because a.) I don’t know what that entails in terms of actual lived experience and b.) Because I’m white and other people’s things can be mine. If I was a woman of color the idea of wanting to be white would be loaded with oppression-and after a few months in cosmetology school, I got even more acquainted with this upsetting concept. I get it, Miley Cyrus. You want to be black and you don’t understand what that means or what white dominion is.
I had a few moments of potential self actualization, but honestly I wouldn’t even say I was reflecting on myself-I was seeing racial oppression outwards, as something that exists outside of myself and although it’s the most natural human thing to reflect things back onto yourself, I never really did this about racism. I don’t think most white people do, because it’s damned near impossible to understand something you have no lived experience of. It’s the trouble with misogyny too.
When I was 10 I had a best friend who is Persian. I spent a lot of time with her family and I used to obsess over how beautiful her older sister was. She was a woman in my eyes. She wore black eyeliner all around her eyes to emphasize their shape and darkness. Again, I longed to look like her, but not in a self actualizing way. A few years later my same friend would be victimized and humiliated in an airport by a male TSA employee after 9-11. She was 13 and apparently a potential terrorist. I was there for my friend during this, but I never reflected about being white.
Empathy is understanding that there are other perceptions of reality and other lived realities. Seeing that they are different from your own and having a respect and appreciation for that-and being humbled by the suffering of others. Not seeing the oppression of others as a threat to your own identity.
The resolution and end product of this piece is not me hating myself for being white. I don’t. I don’t feel guilty for being born into privilege. I am not taking responsibility for the actions of others. I do not see myself as other people throughout history-but I acknowledge that I easily could be. I can feel my leg room and my comfy chair. I don’t feel the need to condescend to women of color about making someone more beautiful or important than someone else. I don’t feel the need to immerse myself or not immerse myself in the cultures of other people. I love myself and my beauty and I will continue to idolize other white blonde women throughout history who I find beautiful-and who I see myself in. That isn’t inherently wrong-but yes, the original incarnation of this concept was for the sake of racial oppression. Social and cultural self awareness is the key. I can’t apologize on behalf of my race, it’s stupid and counterproductive, but I can listen and be aware of other realities and my place in the WORLD not just America. A lil humble pie.
My reaction is to be humble about my privilege, to be self actualizing and to be empathetic to my fullest capacity. It’s like what we always say about rape culture-don’t teach women not to get raped, tell men not to rape. As a white person, you quite simply need to not stomp out, dehumanize, oppress, exploit and exterminate non-white people.
It’s a tall order.