Next year Barbie will be sixty years old. Some might say she hasn’t aged a bit; still has that long blond hair, 19 inch waist, the perfect match for the most eligible bachelor in the world. Others would agree that she hasn’t aged a bit, but argue that is the problem. In 2010, Mattel produced a book with Barbie as a computer programmer – impressive? Well, not when she is still reliant on men, “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!” Then in 2015, Barbie was said to be a feminist in an advert entitled, ‘Imagine the Possibilities.’ I have to admit, it is a good advert. A number of girls, aged around 8 or 9, take on adult roles with responsibility – football coach, Professor, Museum tour guide; and in those roles their audience is the general public who have no idea this is an advert for Barbie. That, however, is the problem. The lead Barbie at the end, is still the iconic, soon-to-be 60 year old, never looked better, blonde haired version, who is surrounded by those more reflective of today’s society. Although, all of them are still tall and slim. In response to such developments, in Nigeria there is now a ‘Queen of Africa’ doll that outsells Barbie.
In Elaine Baker’s poem ‘Barbie’, the small child who owns the doll, ‘imagines the possibilities’ of her female toy, ‘Barbie stood buck naked on the handrail…She was cavewoman meets kibbutz/ with gnarly mustard dreads,/ her breasts a different colour from the rest.’ This Barbie has a life of its own; she is bolshie, wild, dishevelled, and can hold her own in the cramped space of a bus, with those who look at her oddly, ‘And she just stood there buck naked,/ tossed her rats tails and flamingo breasts/ and as I blinked I’m sure I saw her/ give them the finger.’ This is Barbie as an outsider, not one conforming to an out-of-date role model. I can only imagine the possibilities that lie ahead for owner of this Barbie, and I think they are going to be endless.
Elaine has also given us a second poem ‘Freedom’, which I love for its depiction of ‘my First School Ball’ against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Do you remember where you were when it came down?
Elaine Baker is a poet and creative educator from Wantage, in south Oxfordshire. She has a background in teaching adults and young people and has a heart for getting people writing, at whatever age! Her poetry has been published in a range of journals and anthologies over the past 6 years and she was a Mslexia poetry finalist in 2017. She is Patron of Writing at Didcot Girls’ School, where she mentors young writers, and was recently Poet in Residence at Nomura Plc for London Open Garden Squares 2018. She has taught at The Poetry School, London, where she is currently completing an MA in Writing Poetry. She tweets most randomly @kitespotter and blogs about working creatively with young people on her website www.elaine-baker.com .
Barbie stood buck naked on the handrail
in the grip of some small child
and I swear she rolled her eyes at me.
It was on the X13.
She was cavewoman meets kibbutz
with gnarly mustard dreads,
her breasts a different colour from the rest.
One hand was pushed out at the wrist
her cherry dot nails splayed coquettish.
The other arm had popped out at the shoulder
and didn’t look like it belonged there.
Itchy woollen coats pressed round her –
not enough seats so the grey gods just clung there
with eyes that burned on Barbie
who wasn’t holding on.
And she just stood there buck naked,
tossed her rats tails and flamingo breasts
and as I blinked I’m sure I saw her
give them the finger.
I dreamed that careless whisper,
our smooching and slow-dancing
for endless weeks
until my first School Ball.
The Big Night. Disco lights
warm coke and sausage rolls
in the sweaty school hall.
I dazzled like Dallas
stuffed into a boob tube
watching boys and girls grooving
like boa constrictors mouthing
tainted love and necking.
I stood there longing.
Somewhere, someone said the Berlin wall came down.
Next morning my boob tube was sticky,
reeking of cheese and onion.
I poured the rice crispies,
turned on the TV,
watched Berlin party.