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.”