In 1992, the same year my brother was born, Mattel came out with My Size Barbie, a 3 foot tall plastic mannequin version of their already madly successful toy Barbie. She came dressed in a sparkly pink gown which could be converted to a tutu or a swimsuit by adjusting the skirt. Her arms and legs moved on a pivot at her shoulder and hip joints. We could high five. We could hold hands and wear matching outfits. I had to have her.
I was totally the kind of creepy child who would rather hang out with a doll than a person. (Note: I may or may not still be this creepy.) A doll did everything I wanted, and I could project all my imaginings and anxieties onto her with no feedback or judgment from her vapid plastic eyes.
For Christmas that year, My Size Barbie moved into our house, and for a while it was B.F.F. bliss. Then, she started to get a little boring. It wasn’t as easy to imagine her talking back as it had once been. She was brushed aside in favor of Samantha, an American Girl Doll who came with a backstory, accessories, and best of all, books.
But my parents had spent too much money on My Size Barbie to throw her out, especially when my sister came along and might want to play with her some day. My Size Barbie ended up shoved in my closet, half-buried under a pile of clothes fallen from the hangers, one hand extended like a woman drowning in fashion. (I mean, hey, she is Barbie.)
Cut to six or seven years later. My mom stayed at home and often we had two or three children who would get dropped off early in the morning and picked up late at night by their working parents. Mom watched them during the day, or in the case of Lenny, who was the same age as my brother, made sure he got on and off the bus safely from first grade classes.
Lenny had some problems with behavior, let’s put it that way. He destroyed our belongings, made a mess of our home, and worst of all, invaded my room when I wasn’t looking. That was how he and My Size Barbie met. He saw her hand reaching desperately out of the closet--and instead of pulling her out, he went in.
I went into my room and found him there, pressing My Size Barbie down into the pile of my old sweaters and humping her smooth plastic body as if his life depended on it. His face was screwed up in concentration, so much that he didn’t notice me. I quietly left the room and went to get my mom, who hauled him out of the closet by his ankle and put him in time out. You’d think this would have meant the exile of My Size Barbie from our home. Obviously she was a temptress. But no. She stayed in my closet--and I kept finding Denny there. Eventually he encouraged my brother to join him, and my mom started to think it was funny.
Funny that my poor defenseless Barbie was being ravaged by two boys too young to even have pubes. Why did Lenny even know how to hump as a first grader? Why did he think it was okay to do that to my toy even after I told him not to, and an adult did as well? What if there had been life-size Ken and I decided to grind my little-girl vagina into the crotch of his body? Would that have been as accepted?
It can be easy to impart significance to insignificant events in retrospect. I’m not saying Barbie got raped--she’s plastic, a toy, it’s like saying a blow up doll got raped. But on the other hand, Lenny was obviously convinced that his own desires were more important than any rules my mother set out for his conduct--a belief he proved many other times as well, like when he drew on the walls or jumped on the couch for hours. My mother, too, had to choose between amusement and frustration at his antics, and in this case she chose to see the humor in a little boy humping a doll.
Lenny appears from Facebook to have turned out fine, turned out well in fact. He is not an extreme case or even a negative one. But culture, and its expectations, are built and perpetuated in small ways, day by day, not only in the tragedies and victories that end up on the news. Thinking lately about this new buzz phrase “rape culture,” I started thinking about places I might have seen it expressed, and this wouldn’t stop nagging at me, though I know it’s more complex than the cut and dry examples people like to get riled up about. All this seems to raise is questions. Where must the tolerant understanding and allowances made for children stop and the shaping of an adult begin?
My Size Barbie ended up sleeping with the fishes somewhere in the Danville, Indiana landfill after Lenny drew a moustache and bushy eyebrows on her with a Sharpie.
RIP lady. RIP.