Saturday, April 5, 2008

Aging Barbie Takes On EST

I have a friend whose husband, Joe, went to EST. He became convinced that if she went to EST, too, she would learn that their problems were of her making. His issue was the death of their son following a horribly difficult birth. Despite the fact that the attending physician settled the malpractice suit against him for two million and change, Joe wasn’t satisfied. Mere millions could not compensate his loss or heal his grief. He began to obsess, looking for a place to heap more blame, enraged at his helplessness. He was rich and handsome, surrounded by a large and supportive Irish family. He was powerful and virile. This could not have happened to him, unless it was someone else’s fault.

Judy went through all the normal stages of insanity that the death of a child brings to a woman. It was her first child. A son. She was madly in love with Joe, and had moved back to Salt Lake, leaving New York and giving up her modeling career, to marry him and have this child. It wasn’t a difficult decision. Love does that to women. It was the real stuff— heart, mind, and soul. After months of grieving, she decided to go back to work here in Salt Lake, thinking it might bring her back to life. She quite simply needed to be among the living again.

And that’s when Joe snapped. That’s when he became convinced it was really her fault that their son died. It didn’t matter that her grief was as real and as intense as his own. Blaming the doctor wasn’t enough. He began to accuse her of every sort of carelessness in the gestation of his son. He even hired a private investigator, trying to prove that she smoked a cigarette or drank a martini while she was pregnant, to no avail. That’s when he went to EST. Then he seemed to think by making her go to EST she would see things his way. But it was presented as an ultimatum. Go, or get out. (If it had been me, I’d have packed and been gone in under a half an hour.) But Judy is a hell of a lot nicer than I am. She went to EST. She stayed for hours. She has described it to me, but the only thing that stuck in my mind was the name tags they made everybody wear, once they thought they’d found your button, the soft underbelly of your secret shame, your deepest hurt. One grossly obese woman had to wear the name tag FATSO. A woman with bad acne scars was tagged PIZZA FACE. A tall, thin, painfully shy man with a natural tonsure was stuck with CUE BALL. You get the idea. What I don’t get, is the purpose of this, but no matter. They gave her a name tag that read AGING BARBIE. She tore it up, threw it on the floor, said “Fuck you, EUNUCH!” and walked out.

Finally Joe drove Judy away. She left him in his fancy house with his fancy swimming pool and his fancy Jaguar and moved into the apartment of a model friend who was spending the winter in Italy. She kept her Volvo Sedan, but that’s about it. And her lack of interest in fighting for his things was so insulting to him he tried to sue her. Breach of Promise, or some bullshit like that. He did file for divorce on the grounds that she deserted him. But he kept hauling her into court for one frivolous bit of nonsense after another. Finally his lawyer told him he was going to get his ass thrown in jail if he didn’t stop harassing his ex-wife.

Joe’s rolling in dough and still miserable. Judy is working her ass off to pay down her attorney’s fees, and has managed to thrive. She works in an industry where the money’s pretty good. Judy and I know each other because we both work in the fashion/entertainment industry along with a large group of smart, funny women, and we have known each other for at least fifteen years. I am the oldest.

We have always worked in this industry, though most of us have college educations and other skills and talents. But we have the genetic make-up, and the right temperament. We are tall, thin, well muscled, long legged. We all have pretty or photogenic faces, we have good posture and carry ourselves well. That’s the basic material. I know plenty of women with the basic material who lack the nerve. It takes the ability to move like a good female impersonator, hutzpah enough to get up on a catwalk and strut your stuff, and that certain something that comes through in a photograph or on film. But despite the blue blood educations and the multilingualism, the great bones and the magazine covers, not one of my professional beauty friends feels beautiful. They are all flawed, imperfect, not good enough. Will never measure up to the standard they themselves have helped to set.

Barbie is forty nine this year, or so I’m told. I’ll be sixty four. That would have made me fourteen the year Barbie made her famous debut. Too old to have much interest in dolls. What I did notice about her was her remarkable resemblance to the fold-outs in Dad’s Playboy Magazines. She also had a striking resemblance to the cartoon women I used to doodle in boring classes when I was eight, nine, and ten. Carl Jung would have been proud of that child’s tapping into some collective unconscious, brewing a life-warping icon.

Judy has been working very hard and quite successfully at paying off her attorney’s fees. She has gone from model, actor, make-up artist and stylist to Art Director, and Producer. Once she is free of the debt, created by Joe’s wounded ego because he couldn’t break her, her next major purchase is going to be some very fine cosmetic surgery. She has just turned forty-five (though most twenty year old men see her as maybe thirty, and would give their right nut to have one hot, sweaty night with her).

Judy was five the year Mattel made Barbie. She was the perfect target. I started modeling the year after Barbie appeared on the scene. Too old to recognize the influence she would have on the next generation of women, beautiful or not. But you’d have to be lobotomized in this day and age not to see the damage she’s done to four generations of boys and girls, and the vast fortunes that have been made as a result of that damage. Think anorexia, bulimia, anti-depressant, shrink, breast implants, facelifts, liposuction, cosmetics, clothing, shoes, podiatrist, manicurist, hairstylist, subscriptions and prescriptions. And on and on and on it goes. None of us ever quite perfect enough. The world’s economies rise and fall according to the magnitude of our need to please, and how far below Barbie’s standard we have sunk.

When I was a young woman, women’s bodies were supposed to be soft and yielding. Remember Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren? Since Barbie, the word hard-body has come into common usage when referring to the ideal for all female bodies. If it were not related to some seismic shift in our collective unconscious, it would have gone out of fashion ten years after it came into fashion. It is only post-Barbie that eating disorders has become an epidemic among teenage girls. It is also post-Barbie that the term hard-body came into the lexicon. It isn’t even a code, for Christ’s sake, it’s literal. In order for a young woman today to be OK in her own skin, she must have lean muscle over bone, breasts too large for her rib-cage and shoulders to support, hips too small for her frame, and golden highlights and a perfect cut to her long, lustrous hair. If she’s Asian, she won’t feel pretty because she isn’t tall enough, and she thinks her eyes need surgery to correct the fact that she’s not Anglo. She will also, most likely, have permed and/or colored her gorgeous, shiny, strong, straight black hair. It will, by the time she’s twenty one, have become dull, lifeless, frizzy, with a reddish cast to it. Ditto Hispanics and African American women.

I know it’s a stretch to blame the mass neurosis of our entire sex on Barbie, and that’s not exactly what I’m doing. Some evil genius at Mattel was operating in the same conflux of cosmic consciousness as the doodling girl and Heff, mindlessly following some lame melange of images swirling around in post-war, nuclear, suburban, pre-feminist Madison Ave. America to all create the same vision at once. And out of thin air, we have Barbie, icon. She’s no queen of the universe, has no magical powers, unless having huge tits counts. So now, instead of trying to fight it, I embrace it, this brain drain, this tasteless, tacky, permanently tip-toed, tit’s ahoy, cotton- candy haired freak. You go, girl!

Just last night, I asked a very intelligent, handsome, and charming man what the icon, the role-model, for his generation of boys was, and he said, “Probably some super-hero, some action character, like GI Joe or Conon the Barbarian.”
“Do you carry that image into adulthood?”
“Shit yes.”


Beach Bum said...

Had to read this excellent post twice to really digest the information. Can't imagine how I would act if i lost one of my kids although Joe's behavior went beyond the pale. My five year old daughter plays with various Barbie's right now but when I asked (after reading some article concerning how young girls see themselves with respect to Barbie) her did she wanted to look like her she said confidently no. She told me she was Chinese, thats were we adopted her from, and that Barbie was American. Now, she did ask me if I loved her and if I thought she was pretty, and I said very much on both counts, and she seemed cool with that. I'm uncertain if my daughter will ever have issues with how she looks but right now I'm not worried. As for what icon I looked to when a child. I have to admit that Jim Kirk and Superman were the ones that held my interest. But I was weird, I understood to a certain degree about the principles Superman worked (truth, justice, and the American way) and the leadership and strength of character Jim Kirk shown in his voyages. Okay, I admit that once girls came into the picture I liked how kirk could bag them no matter what. And yes I was in love with Uhura for years. That freaked my family out for years, me being from a southern family.

Blank said...

There's so much in this post, I hardly know where to begin. It's damn powerful writing, and it brought to mind a cool poem I'm going to find and post just for you. You'll like.

It's hard to say what my favorite part was, but that moment when Judy ripped up that name tag resonates strongly with me. All of those vivid descriptions of Barbie linger, too.

It's just good stuff, UT.

Literally hard bodies. I hadn't thought of that.

Well, you read my recent post, so it won't surprise you that when and where I grew up, so much emphasis was placed on how a woman looked. Every assessment of a woman's abilities began or ended with how she looked. I remember stuyding The Feminine Mystique in grad school and the prof made fun of Betty Friedan for not being physically attractive in his opinion. Still, I was an oddball in that setting because it was rural American, and blond and blue eyed was the ideal, and I was too tall, too thin, and looked somewhat Asian and too different. Not like Barbie.

Good thought-provoking post, UT.

Blank said...

Hey, I had never heard of ETS. I looked it up, but I'm wondering if I found the right thing? Erhard Seminars Training?

The acronym should be ASS.

Anonymous said...

“Shit yes.”

TomCat said...

Utah, you have so much information to digest here, that I'll comment only on a couple parts of it.

On Joe, I would certainly not minimize his suffering at the loss of his child. Grief is normal, but he went beyond grief. He exemplifies a 'thinking error' called misattribution. It is the belief that people and events outside ourselves have control over our feelings. That is not true. Our feelings are fully our own. As long as we place the blame for them on others or events, we have an excuse to wallow in bitterness, rather that to confront and deal with them.

On Barbie, I think it a bit off target to make a doll responsible for the ills of women. However, Barbie is an example of that same Madison Avenue mindset that is behind it. Lovely as Marilyn and Sophia were, they represented a look that was attainable. Barbie, on the other hand represents a look that is virtually unattainable, and as long as Madison Avenue cam brainwash women into believing that they have to match an unattainable goal to be acceptable, they will keep spending their money on products and services to more closely approach that goal. By the same token, men and women buy into such idiocy, when we should recognize it for the garbage it is.

Utah Savage said...

Oh TC I think we should have recognized it about forty years ago, maybe about the time Playboy came out, but then there was hard on it's heels Hustler and soon internet porn. Barbie is placed in the hands of little girls pretty early, and think how much she resembles the women our daddies so desire. Any wonder we take that deadly road? Daddy, daddy, look at me!

susan said...

I saw your comment at nvisiblewmn and had to stop by. I'm not quite the same age but not far off - remembering well Monroe, Bardot and Loren and others. It's an excellent post.

Bob Keller said...

WOW! Wonderfully written with great insight.

Thank you....

Life As I Know It Now said...

Great post. I don't think guys take their role models quite so literally. I mean they aren't expected to really have such large bulging muscles and they don't try, even to the point of cosmetic surgery, to obtain that look. Guys may go to the gym or work out but that is about the extent of it, no? The main point is that guys are not judged solely on their looks the way gals are. Because girls are expected to look like Barbie. That is why they will allow someone to cut them up because they will never look that way naturally. And if they don't go the surgery route, and most don't, they still feel bad about themselves and spend gobs of money trying to look a certain way, the way of Barbie.

K McKiernan said...

Right... guys don't focus as much on what society shoves down their throat as women because for men, having a "hot woman" and having money are both large commodities for men to have. What is the hottest commodity for a woman to have? Beauty and desirability.

But you know, I take that back, society does shove plenty down their throat and they do get altered and changed by it in profound ways they really don't even think about (like many women and much of what they succumb to).

Men buy into the constructions of virility and strength, essential male attributes to be "a man." Look at the industry of penis enhancement. Everyone knows it does not work, most know that its how you work your penis, not how big your penis is... but men, collectively, will spend millions in the hope of looking like what a "real" man looks like: Porn Star Dick.

Difference is, most men want their woman to look and act like a porn star. But, most women do not want their man to look and act like a porn star.

Men are allowed to be other things. Their constructions tie into entitlement and "superiority;" therefore, they are able to focus on other matters and not be so deeply affected.

K McKiernan said...

And, I feel deeply for your friend, Utah, for I lost my first child during birth. Thankfully (funny you have to be thankful--doesn't that say way too much), my husband (my ex now) was very kind, patient, thoughtful during the whole ordeal.

He did not blame me at all...

I did enough of that on my own. Its only human nature as a grieving mother to blame one's self... but to blame your spouse when you see her plight and pain.

Now, that is a man to avoid, at all costs.

TomCat said...

Utah, it's not at all surprising. Madison Avenue propaganda is designed by experts. But once, Playboy featured more filled out women. still remember the Marilyn spread.

s. douglas said...

I've tried to keep the Barbies away from my Bella, but it's fucking (Can I say that on your blog?) impossible.

Her mother is a gold digging, "Look how pretty I am" bitch, and she wants Bella to be a "Princess."

And then my step-mother, although a wonderful woman at heart, is kind of a pinhead, and is very much bought into the Princess Mythology as well.

As it stands, Bella has 5 Barbies, and one Ken (I'm not sure if he's a "Plig," or Gay).

I have had numerous arguments with my family over this matter, several times getting very angry, but to no avail.

Culture/Socialization trumps Dada's every time.

The good news is, she has my mind, and is both intelligent, and insightful.

In fact, she says things sometimes that trips my ass out.

And she remembers everything. She asked me about a person yesterday that she hasn't seen since she was one and half (She's four now).

Blew my mind. Remembered what they looked like, what their cat looked like, everything.

There is hope, I hope.

LB said...

You suggested that only women liked your Aging Barbies piece, but it seems to me that everyone liked it, as well they should. It's an excellent piece.
Certainly, the fellow who suggested that you are blaming Barbies (as the source of women's sexual oppression) is confused. The same mentality that created Barbies also created the women-hating (but sex driven) culture that we live in. Money-sickness (capitalism) and sex-sickness (rape, pronography, objectification) combine to create this climate that makes it so difficult to live as a woman (or a gay person, or a poor person, racial minority, ad nauseum).
Keep writing Utah.

Blank said...

Fairlane, I loved my Barbies, too. And look how I turned out....

Oh, GOD! Take those damned dolls away from that kid post haste!

s. douglas said...

It's not the body image I worry about, it's the mindless consumerism.

I tend to only purchase art supplies, and books for Bella, oh, and I gave her my old plastic army men.

I will say, what is just as dangerous is, to raise children, specifically girls, to believe that they're "victims."

There seems to be a great deal of that mentality on both the Left, and the Right.

If a child is stupid, more than likely, so too were their parents.

I'm just saying.

Utah Savage said...

Fairlane, I think body image for women and consumerism are inextricably linked. I love that you gave your daughter your old plastic army men. I once tried to give a toddler boy a baby doll when his momma was pregnant, so he too would have a baby to play with, but his dad had a fucking shit fit and threw it away claiming I was trying to turn his son into a fag. This dad was a PhD in English Lit. I told him his son had a perfectly good role model right at home if he was going to turn into a fag. I wasn't invited over much after that.

Mary Ellen said...

What an excellent post. It's my first time here and I'm glad I had time to pop over this evening.

I did my share of Barbie play as a kid but I don't think it had that much effect on me. What does drive me crazy are the cosmetic ads and fashion industry. I'm sick of seeing ads for wrinkle cream with a picture of a 20 year old on it, and how stupid do they think we are when they are showing pictures of "before" and "after" that are nothing more than airbrushed pictures. I see one of those on the internet all the time...I think it's on AOL. There's a picture of a woman that has more wrinkles than my 80 year old mother and then they show her "after" she uses some cream for six weeks and BLAM! She's a 20 year old again!

The cosmetic industry is what is making the lives of 40 plus women running for the plastic surgeon.

Great post...I'll put you on my favorite blog list, if that's ok with you.