Laura Simis

Slumdog Barbie

Laura Simis
Slumdog Barbie

I spent my childhood daydreaming in the pink aisle.

Not only did I have an entire fleet of Barbies at my disposal, usually left nude and sporting various levels of destructed ponytails - I also had a little sister. A built-in friend to play Barbies with!

As this was back in the days before I had any sort of disposable income, my Barbie collection was plied mainly by my wealthy benefactor (Mom) on very special occasions. (And one Barbie windfall when I had my tonsils removed in Kindergarten. My friends and classmates gifted me with Barbie stickers and Barbie clothes and Barbie school supplies - so much swag that I distinctly remember laying there thinking “Can you get your tonsils out twice? Because this is paying off nicely.”)

In a clear act of child favoritism that my mother claims is merely due to the proximity of my sister’s birthday to after-Christmas toy sales, my sister ended up with a luxurious, two-story Barbie Dreamhouse and a purple Barbie convertible.

My summer birthday scored me a hot pink used Barbie minivan, snapped up from a consignment sale.

This discrepancy of socioeconomic status led to some very creative childhood playtime.

We stan an icon!  (Two of the few Barbies that made it out of my youth with their hairstyles intact, and my mom’s Barbie from the 70s.)

We stan an icon!
(Two of the few Barbies that made it out of my youth with their hairstyles intact, and my mom’s Barbie from the 70s.)

My sister would unfold her Barbie mansion in one center of her room. She’d scatter her children around the yard and prop her Ken doll up against the kitchen wall, where he’d stay for the entirety of our playtime - presumably preparing an elegant all-candy meal for his family. (In reality, he had to stay still because his arms had a tendency to pop off at the shoulders. Even rich Barbie had problems money couldn’t solve.)

Meanwhile, in a different corner of the room, I would carefully construct a house of hand-me-downs. It was clear, even then, that my Barbie couldn’t live in the same neighborhood as my sister’s wealthy Barbie.

I had acid green, yellow, and brown striped inflatable Barbie furniture from my mom’s childhood Barbie days. I’d lay a scarf on top of a large book, creating my own eclectic wall-to-wall carpeting.

My Barbies didn’t have closet space, so I’d just stack their clothing in the corner of the living room. They didn’t have a bed - Barbie slept on the couch and Ken slept on the coffee table like a gentleman. As we had no kitchen, my sister graciously hosted in her Dreamhouse kitchen.

My sister’s Barbie would drive her convertible back and forth between the store (a large bucket filled with velcro clothing and mismatched shoes) and “soccer practice,” which is what we called it when we’d hide our Barbie children in the closet and let our Barbies have some “me time.”

While flashy, the purple convertible proved an unreliable option for a Barbie with several children. After buying several metallic mini skirts (likely the primary cause of my Barbie’s poverty,) I often had to carpool my sister’s fleet of matching blonde kids in my minivan while she filled her backseat with a nest of dresses.

My children, like my inflatable furniture, were adopted hand-me-downs from my mother.

There was Bethany - my Barbie daughter who had gone prematurely gray and suffered from gigantism. She wasn’t a Barbie, so she had much more realistic proportions - therefore making her enormous in comparison to the rest of her Barbie family.

And there was Bif - my Barbie son who had vitiligo and dwarfism. He was rescued from a drain pipe in army base housing by my grandfather in the 60s, so he had patches of greenish-blue skin where the metal inside his rubber arms and legs had rusted and discolored him. He had a Barbie kid-sized head but a very small body.

This band of misfits was led by a Barbie who, while crippled by the tooth marks in her feet after my cousin tried to chew them off, never gave up appearances. Her friends never sensed her financial ruin because she wore ornate ball gowns to playdates and chic Parisian capri pants on coffee runs. (My Barbie of choice came with her own pet shop, but lacked the entrepreneurial interest to use it to get her family into better living conditions.)

Though their hand-me-down retro furniture couldn’t compete with the Dream House, Barbie was a good mother and a decent friend. (I say decent because I definitely talked about my sister’s Barbie’s nose job behind her back, Real Housewives-style, and one time I attempted to cut and style bangs on an unwilling Barbie participant.)

Though she had to park her beaten up mini-van next to her friend’s purple convertible when she went over for dinner, she always got that van to soccer practice on time to pick up all the kids.

Though she had to play the pauper to my sister’s princess, hoarding her massive closet on the wrong side of town, I still got the full Barbie experience of trying to squeeze Barbie’s hips through a shift dress and spending the first fifteen minutes of playtime trying to find a matching pair for every shoe.  

And this playtime socioeconomic experiment ended the same way every time. With our rich Barbies and our poor Barbies side-by-side, laying naked in a heap, abandoned in favor of the television.

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