Tag Archives: Culture

Tall Barbie is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (except good marketing)

Good on Mattel for making a big splash last week about the new Fashionista Barbie dolls. Publicity equals sales. Yay, Marketing Department!

(I used to be a marketer. I get it.)

tall barbie

Leather & Ruffles Tall Fashionista Barbie

But I don’t think tall, petite and curvy Barbies with seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles do a whole lot for the evolution of girls.

Or least, the tall ones don’t. I won’t speak for the petite, the curvy, the green-eyed or the blue-highlight-coiffed among us (except to say, wasn’t Skipper petite?).

“We have to let girls know, it doesn’t matter what shape you come in,” Mattel’s promotional video says, “that anything is possible.”

Um, no. Not anything is possible.

Tall Barbie can’t be a jockey. And she doesn’t fit comfortably into a standard airplane seat. And there’s still no way her feet are proportionally sized; tall girls need a bigger platform on which to balance.

I was a tall girl. And Barbies of average height didn’t make me feel like a freak.

Boys did.

Here’s the real question, which Google couldn’t answer for me: Is tall Barbie taller than Ken? If not, tall Barbie is just another doll who fits into the expectation that boys should be taller than girls.

And not all of them are.

I distinctly remember the moment I figured this out.

It was seventh grade. Between classes, a hundred or more seventh graders rumbled through the basement of Wadena Junior High School, an ancient three-story structure that probably had lead paint and asbestos pipes (it’s long gone, and so is the evidence).

In the basement, the girls’ lockers, the girls’ bathrooms and the band room were grouped on the south side of the basement. The boys’ lockers, the boys’ bathroom and the shop (where all kinds of leather tooling, drafting and small engine repair were practiced) were on the north end of the long, low hallway that bridged the sexes.

In today’s age, I assume boys’ and girls’ lockers are evenly mixed between the shop and the home ec classrooms, but not back then. Yes, I know, you instructors of family and consumer science, home economics doesn’t even exist anymore. Some things change, some things don’t. Like how tall are adolescent boys in comparison to adolescent girls.

Back to my reverie. Between classes, I walked that hallway gauging how close the boys’ heads came to the ceiling. Because at 5-foot-8, I had a bird’s eye view.

This was the moment I became self conscious about my height. Shopping for pants only reinforced my insecurities. This was the ’80s, and high-water pants were the most embarrassing fashion choice I could make. Oh, yes, I needed the Nike swoosh on my shoes, and ponchos and peace signs had become weird throw-backs, but short pants? The very worst. Finding pants long enough for my inordinately long legs was a feat I would spend hours, days, weeks to accomplish.

By the time I figured out I was “too tall” in seventh grade, I was past learning lessons from any forward thinking Barbies. Maybe I was taller than all the boys (and all the girls for that matter) when I was playing with Barbies in second, third, fourth grades, but I didn’t realize it and playing with tall Barbies was not necessary then to make me feel less like a freak.

So this whole tall Barbie promotion amuses me. “Imagination comes in all shapes and sizes,” Mattel spouts. Platitudes are awesome in marketing materials. Hard to argue with that. (A better platitude would be that “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” but I’m just a critic.)

What tall girls really need more of is short Ken. Short Ken should never ask tall Barbie to wear shorter heels. He should never call attention to tall Barbie’s height except to comment lovingly on her long legs. When he slow dances with her, he should nuzzle her chest and tell her how much he loves the eye view. He should never complain about his own height because that makes tall Barbie conscious of her own.

OK, I kid. Tall Barbie needs to love herself just as she is, and to heck with what Ken thinks.

But I really hope her pants are long enough.

We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

When my father first acquired his television store in 1976, the best sets on the showroom floor were consoles. Enormous pieces of furniture with wood cabinets and big flat tops perfect for bouquets of fake flowers. Usually playing The Six Million Dollar Man.

I kid. About the Six Million Dollar Man part. A sporting event was probably playing. But not on ESPN. That channel started in 1979.

In any case, my point is, console TVs were once the bees’ knees.

Not so anymore, of course. A TV deeper than 4 inches is considered so yesterday.

I was reminded of my dad’s old TV store and all the wonderful electronics it once contained today when my Beloved and I got up bright and early to recycle a bunch of old computer hardware at the county recycling event, a  special production designed to help suburban hoarders lighten the load by giving them clearance to get rid of once useful stuff like latex paint, 1995 tax documents and bikes with flat tires.

And console TVs.

Fifteen minutes after the event began at 8 a.m., it was a madhouse! The parking lot was packed with six million recyclers, heavy lifters and SUVs filled with junk.

We got in line and in literally three minutes, we were relieved of our old drives, monitors and printers (not the car batteries, though, alas — those weren’t accepted).

IMG_5143 (544x640)I tried to get a picture, but the crew was moving so fast (it was like they were bionic!), Tyler was unloaded and ready to escape the mayhem before I captured a good shot. So here’s a bad one.

Besides the amazingly quick and efficient service, I was overwhelmed with the amount of stuff people were unloading (us included). All those corrupt computers, busted television sets and ginormous laser printers are going into the garbage somewhere.

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.”

― Aldous Huxley

I have a producer!

Beyoncé has a producer. The Kardashians have a producer. The Amazing Spider-Man has a producer.

And now I have a producer, too!

I spent the afternoon reading embarrassing excerpts out of diaries written when I was 14 and 15 to two strangers in a downtown Chicago community coffee shop, and now Connie is my producer. That’s what obsessively writing selfish entries about one’s teenage angst gets you. Ha!

Connie will help me prepare to be part of a live show of “Mortified: Angst Written” in Chicago (date to be determined). “Mortified” is a grassroots storytelling forum for adults to share excerpts of the strange and embarrassing things they did as kids as a way to reveal stories about their lives.

Color -coded Post-It notes: Green for embarrassing junior high stalker, pink for embarrassing kissing references, hot pink for embarrassing menstruation references.

Color -coded Post-It notes: Green for embarrassing junior high stalker, pink for embarrassing kissing references, hot pink for embarrassing menstruation references.

I think it was lines like “Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married today. She was really pretty in her dress. I got my period today. Bummer!” (July 29, 1981), “I have a new walk. I swing my hips from side to side in an easy motion instead of the jerky, unconnected way I was walking” (Aug. 13, 1981) and “FRENCHING IS THE BEST!” (Sept. 7, 1982) that won me a spot in the line-up.

Stay tuned for my world premiere performance!

The most distinctive feature in my horizon is the water tower

Small-town girl.

Urban Dictionary’s first definition is this:

Your girl-next-door who is not afraid to drive her man’s truck, loves to shoot her 22, makes Mossy Oak look hot, spends summers at the lake; her favorite place to eat is the back yard. Small-town girls think that big trucks are better than sports cars, and a good farmer tan turns them on.

Two references to trucks? Really?

The second definition for small-town girl in Urban Dictionary is even less flattering:

An ugly fat chick who drives a pickup truck and listens to shitty country music.

Ouch. Apparently small-town girls spend a lot of time in vehicles. John Cougar Mellencamp’s 1982 song “Jack & Diane,” which epitomizes small-town life for teenagers has a line, “Diane [is] debutante backseat of Jackie’s car.”

Let’s go a little more traditional (because that’s what a small-town girl values, besides her man and his truck); Cambridge Dictionary defines “small-town” as an adjective describing “of or from a small town, and sometimes having a simple or limited quality.”

Being described as a “small-town girl” makes me cringe. “Simple”? Really? Call me “cosmopolitan,” “well-traveled” or “sophisticated,” and I’m all, “Pshaw.”

But anyone who says “pshaw” has got to be small-town.

I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, no way around it. I lived in a small town in Ohio in my 20s. I lived for a decade in what felt like the big city. But even with 50,000 inhabitants, it was a small town in the middle of nowhere in Minnesota. The best restaurant in the town was Olive Garden. The tallest building had five stories. Surely, the best-selling vehicle was a Ford pick-up.

And though I like to tell people now I live in Chicagoland (accent on “Chicago”), I still live in a small town. It’s surrounded by corn fields, and that’s no exaggeration.

Here’s proof:

little city skyline

“A person can grow only as much as his horizon allows.” ~ John Powell

There’s no skyline like a little city’s skyline. See that water tower in the center of the horizon? (Squint — it’s to the left of the barn.) That water tower stands about a mile north of my suburban house (keen readers will note I’ve snagged a fragment of this picture for my blog header).

My small town sits on the edge of Chicago’s suburbia. A few minutes driving east, and you’ll find more Home Depots, venti soy lattes and traffic than you can throw a stick at.

I’m drawn to the concrete jungle or at least I like to think I am. As I was driving around in my silver Honda today on my way home from a sophisticated, cosmopolitan meeting, I felt like part of an exciting crowd. Yet my drive ended in my little city on the edge of the suburbs. My small-town subconscious is clearly making the decisions.

“It is always the simple that produces the marvelous.”

~ Author Amelia Barr

Something you don’t see every day

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This is sorghum, drying on the floor of a 900,000-square-foot tobacco warehouse.

Sorghum makes sweet sorghum syrup, sort of like molasses and maple syrup but distinctly different. I think dried sorghum would be used to feed livestock.

I’m not sure what was more impressive, the sorghum or the warehouse!

Did you say ‘party’?

“That’s what you get for ignoring the beauty of Tupperware.”

~ Nick Harkaway in “The Gone-Away World”

Normally, I wouldn’t describe a direct sales home party as “nostalgic” but tonight’s Tupperware party at a friend’s house was.

I might never have met this friend if I hadn’t accepted an invitation to a different Tupperware party six years ago.

A waitress in town had sort of befriended me — she’s amazingly friendly that way — and on a whim, she invited me to come with her to a Tupperware party being held in my neighborhood. At the time, I had just moved to Illinois from Minnesota and she knew more of my neighbors than me! (To be fair, she’s so gregarious she probably still knows more of my neighbors than I do.) I got a feel for my new community — and some new Tupperware, thanks to her. The waitress eventually formed a book club; I joined it, got to know her even better, and she introduced me to even more people, including the woman who hosted the Tupperware party tonight.

It was like the Fabergé Organics Shampoo commercial in the ’80s: “I told two friends about it, and they told two friends and so on and so on.”

Meanwhile, the same woman who demonstrated Tupperware at the party six years ago was still at it tonight. Tupperware is an amazing company built on quality plastics. It originated the home party concept in the 1950s. Many companies have come –and gone — by capitalizing on the concept. My experience in direct sales leads me to believe party plan sales are on their way out, to be replaced by virtual parties or something else, but tonight’s Tupperware party offered exactly the formula that’s made them mainstays in suburban culture: a little product demonstration, a little flattery and bribery to the hostess and a little dessert.

It was fun. I got to mingle with some friends. I got to reminisce. And I got some Tupperware.

First day of spring, my a-

I want blossoms, not bluster.

The weather here in northern Illinois is, excuse my crass lack of eloquent description, bullshit.

It’s 19 degrees as I write this in the afternoon. According to the talking heads on the morning news, the wind chill this morning made it feel like 4 degrees below — below! — zero (it’s much worse at my parents house in Wadena, Minn. — the air temperature was below zero by itself this morning, forget how much colder the wind made it feel).

My precious little 8-pound schnauzer is still having to contend with snow in the back yard. Poor thing.

My precious little 8-pound schnauzer who lack body fat and wanders around in bare paws is still having to contend with snow in the back yard. Poor thing.

It’s the first day of spring! I just want to grab Mother Nature by her fur-lined lapel and shake some sense into her! Where the heck is that glorious spring weather we experienced last year at this time (my Beloved was mowing the lawn a year ago!)? Is this payback?

The atrocious weather sent me seeking a prayer, and I found this one titled, “Spring” in “Graces: Prayers & Poems for Everyday Meals and Special Occasions” by June Cotner:

We give you everlasting thanks, O God,
For the marvels of your great creation.

As the flowers blossom and bloom around us
We lift our hearts in joy and celebration.
Amen.

Nice prayer? Indeed. Beautiful. But I think we need something more along the lines of a rain dance right now. I am not Native American, but here’s how a Germanic Swede born in Minnesota might perform a “spring dance”:

  • Wear orange, the color of the sun. But not so much as to call attention to oneself.  An orange hair thingy is appropriate; an orange coat would be going too far. Face paint might include green eyeshadow or bronzer (again, we Minnesotans think Lady Gaga is a little “out there”).
  • Stand, shifting weight from one leg to the other. Weave hands back and forth like a snake charmer as if to impose one’s will on another.
  • Hum the tune from Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind or “The Times They Are a-Changin'” (Dylan was born in Duluth, Minn., dontcha know). Finish dance with a fist pump and bark, “You betcha!”

If that doesn’t scare away winter, I don’t know what will.