As I held the doll in my hands, turning the small plastic figurine over, looking at the intricate details on her arms, legs, head, I wondered what went into imagining the unique concept of this inanimate personality. There was a collection of one-of-a-kind Barbies sprawled out before me on a table in the alley in the heart of Courtenay, now a makeshift exhibition gallery for the First Annual Elevate The Arts Festival. Three young girls no older than 16 sat on the opposite side, proudly running their booth for the Comox Valley Girls Group. Hundreds of people swarmed the tables of artists and performers. The girls stood out in the sea of creative ambiance paired with rabid curiosity of locals and tourists; they were radicals with a message to voice a concern fo their adolescence. Next to me several adults in their late 50’s to early 60’s pushed their way into the display of dolls, to which I had been admiring.
“Why would anyone do this to Barbie? It’s disgusting. I don’t understand why you would encourage young girls to butcher this doll in such a horrible manner.”
The thing about people who try desperately to keep their conversations to a whisper level is they don’t realize their minds want to have their voices heard. The ability to be quiet is a myth, especially when my ears are around the conversations that want to be silent. They walked away from the exhibit without choosing to pick up a single Barbie doll, leaving in utter disgust, as if to touch one of them would inevitably result in a sudden infection of modernity rebellion. To me, I was embarrassed by their crass perception on what these young girls had constructed for this day of the arts. I was embarrassed that they had chosen to disrespect the individuality, the risk, and the honesty each of these girls had put forth into creating their re-invented Barbie. That’s right; a whole new woman. Or man, or transgender, or lesbian with a masculine exterior. Over the course of two weeks the girls took part in an exercise called Re-inventing Barbie; a crafting project that allowed the girls to create their version of the popular icon as how they deemed acceptable, as opposed to the “ideal body type / characteristic” of this icon. It’s another inspiring event put forth by the group, one of many little activities which help young women build skills for a healthy living environment, which, as we all know, can be a rather toxic experience this day and age for any woman to find herself swimming in.
Earlier in the day I had the opportunity to speak with the program creator and director Wendy Morin, as she surprisingly popped into my mothers antique shop on her way to pick up supplies for the girls. She expressed how proud each of them were over their creations, and how wonderful it was to view the strong will and desire each possessed to share their interpretation of what Barbie should represent in our modern culture; that of diversification, understanding, and the ability to represent anyone – regardless of shape, size, gender, sexuality, or personality. Each young girl took on the project with a vigor to voice that Barbie – an outdated figure born in the era pre-feminist revolution of the 1960’s - was no longer an acceptable “tool” for young girls to begin learning that this is what a proper woman should be. I was excited to see the new Barbie, so much so that I pondered why I had never had the courage in my youth to stand up against this iconic figurine, my plastic nemesis smiling back at me with perfect pearly whites, Children OF The Corn white blonde hair, bright eyes lathered in eyeshadow and heavy liner, tiny waist and sadistic pointed breasts fashioned like a bayonet to her chest. Thankfully I grew up in a home where my parents didn’t mind if I picked a GI Joe over Barbie, or cared if I fed her to the dog when my grandmother would give me another one in an attempt to make me less tom-boyish.
Now, holding onto the transgender Barbie staring at the elderly sourpusses who left disrespectfully from the booth, I realized just how brave and necessary an activity like Re-Inventing Barbie is for our young girls / boys. And just how important it is for us, the older generations still living in the ruins of our oppressive history of “striving for perfection to be the ideal woman, housewife and mother” to listen to our children when they say hey, no, this isn’t right, I don’t feel comfortable with this toy, she is a lie, I want to love me for me. I want to cherish a toy that respects my desire to be an individual, because let’s face it, no two of us in this world are the same; we are all unique and should never feel ashamed because of this. I admired the girls for standing proud at their booth taking on the masses of curious passerby’s – many with similar view points as the two older women, who took liberty to chew out these girls with their crass words and awe-less outdated sentiments of what “manners” were. I was touched by their courage to correct Barbie and make her into the new version of honesty, reflecting the woman / person she should be in their eyes. Frankly, it was refreshing to see her freed from the nonsense of her original form, to see her liberated from a toxic-perspective daze of beauty.
Too often we forget, or neglect, to appreciate how much knowledge our youth have to share with us. To often are we too proud to attempt to realize that we, the adults, don’t have the answers to everything, nor do we understand what it is like to be a child in this world, of saturation of pressure, negative imagery, and governments tellings us how we feel about our bodies, about our individuality, is wrong. We are too consumed to see what is in front of us; change. And here on this day, in this converted alley-gallery in a small city on Vancouver Island, I witnessed a collection of young girls voicing a need for change through the vessels of a re-born North American icon, their voiceless words expressing enough is enough; we are not, nor will we ever be, Barbie.
An incredible message from an incredible group of girls, under the guidance of an incredible woman named Wendy. All within a small community. Change and inspiration can be found anywhere in this world, but are we as adults willing to listen, consider, and correct our mistakes of perception. It’s time we start listening to our youth as a collective conscious, a guiding light to direct us, the adults, into a healthy understanding of what they need to strive in this world as an individual, to love themselves unconditionally, and to not feel the caustic pressure of an ideal world to which no one, no one, can adhere too.
I learned a lot from the girls that day, and they helped to show me that heck, there is nothing wrong with me. I am fine the way I am. And for that, I am incredibly thankful that The Comox Valley Girls Group took on Barbie, and inspired individuals to love themselves for the way they are.