I recently read that the first-ever Barbie-themed restaurant opened in Taipei — appropriately called Barbie Café. After reviewing pictures of the restaurant, I can conclude that it does, in fact, look like something Barbie herself would decorate, or how your daughter would decorate her room if you let her: stiletto-shaped tables, frilly, magenta seats and the colour scheme of a bright, overwhelming pink (what else?). There’s even a life-size Barbie box where customers can step inside, pose, and pretend that they’re a real-life version of the world’s most popular doll. Young girls and mothers are sure to love it; to anyone else, the cutsey-ness of it all may make you forget about your appetite entirely.
The opening of Barbie Café had me thinking to myself: Why is there this fascination to be like Barbie? She’s just a toy, after all. As a woman in her 20s, its been a long time since Barbie has been anything close to a role model to me. However, if I said that I never played with Barbie as a child, I’d be lying. Like millions of girls before me, I, too, was sucked into Barbie’s world. How could I resist Barbie’s vigorous charms, the Dream House, her fabulous wardrobe, her increasingly exotic vacations (Malibu, the Jungle, Outer Space) and her seemingly limitless supply of money? Even her friends were cool: Skipper, PJ, and on-again-off-again boyfriend Ken. My personal forbidden fruit was my mother’s limited edition Barbie collection that she kept on display in her room; the one that I was forbidden to play with but still managed to sneak in an adventure or two when she wasn’t home.
As a child, I played with Barbie dolls because I wanted to be like Barbie. She was grown-up, sophisticated, she had real clothes and her accessories were realistic too. I liked that I could play with a doll that had grown-up like features. However, I never wanted to look like her. Even as a child I knew that her body wasn’t something to compare myself to. Her tall figure, that abnormally skinny waist, size-D chest, and eternally beautiful face; those were never physical qualities that I thought were necessary to emulate. At the age of eight I was mature enough to tell the difference between a real, growing, changing body and a plastic toy that is unchanging and, more importantly, unrealistic.
By the time I was 11 years old, I had grown out of my Barbie stage. I became more interested in socializing with friends, I exchanged the love of pink for less “girlie” colours, and I realized that Barbie isn’t someone to “be” — in fact, she’s not real at all! Before I even realized that I was growing up and maturing, Barbie had changed from being a woman who I aspired to be to how I see her now: a toy with big boobs and way too much stuff.
My days of wanting to be Barbie are long over, but I still appreciate how important she was to me when I was growing up. As a child, Barbie was a clean slate: I had the freedom to choose her outfit, her personality and her setting. Now, I don’t need a doll to do these things. If I ever happen to be in Taiwan and stumble across Barbie Café, I’d probably have lunch there for nostalgia’s sake. I’d even pose and take a photo in the Barbie Box and briefly imagine how fantastic a life in plastic would really be — but definitely not as fulfilling as the real thing.