There's an epidemic of Americans dressing like 14-year-old boys. Men and women alike show up at graduations, concerts, and nice restaurants, looking like they were hit by the 5 o'clock grunge train. Senator John Fetterman comes to mind. Is this trend possibly responsible for the resurgence of all things Barbie?
After knowing her for 64 years, you'd think we'd seen enough of the iconic leggy lady, yet here she is again, with a new film debut on July 21st, ready to drench the decades-long drought of all things feminine.
This isn't about social issues or gender identity but instead illuminates disappearing role models for little girls who want to be feminine.
Daughters once watched as their mothers prepared to leave the house by removing their "house clothes" and dressing in something "nice." Whether it was a cotton dress with crinoline in the '50s, a polyester pantsuit in the '70s, or even a floral skirt with a puffy blouse in the '80s, our mothers knew how to step it up a notch before they ventured into public. It wasn't vanity; it was dignity.
Today, men and women sport the uniform of shorts or jeans topped with rumpled T-shirts. Tucking a shirt into pants and wearing a belt is considered "dressy." but is out of the question for most. The ubiquitous baseball cap eliminates the need to brush your hair — yet another teenage trait. Today's families can pull any old thing out of the communal laundry basket, which will do just fine. Generic is the rage which is a close cousin of outrage.
But in walks Barbie.
Cue the glitter bomb.
8-year-old heads spin and snaggle-toothed smiles spread across the freckled faces of American girls hungry for fluff and bows.
Our parents once dressed for a night out as their little girls watched Mommy slip into a pretty dress and blot her Avon lipstick on a tissue, making faint lip prints that fluttered down into the wastebasket. Daddy's face was smooth. His shirt was crisply ironed, and he smelled good. The babysitter would arrive, and you knew it was a special night.
Our children are now witnesses to a world where Mom and Dad's idea of a night out involves hoodies and the drive-thru, yet Barbie goes to the moon, The White House, then to a fancy ball where Ken awaits in a sportscar. No wonder Barbie is making a splash. She's a curious commodity in a land of sweatshirts.
The temporary pop-up Malibu Barbie Café in New York City is sold out for most seatings this summer as fans of all ages flock to eat in a rosy-soaked environment.
In a world without Jackie Kennedy or Elizabeth Taylor, we've sunk to a place where feminine beauty is lost. Vulgarity is trying to step in as a substitute, but we shouldn't be fooled.
Casualwear itself isn't the problem. Instead, it's having the sense to understand that maturity isn't bad and sometimes calls for a shirt with buttons or even a dress. It's also not a matter of income level, for most bargain stores carry pretty frocks and neckties right next to the T-shirts that say, "We whooped your team."
Traveling by air or attending a play now resembles a regular day at Seven Hills Slouch Farm. Children see no difference in the stages of life, with nothing appearing special or reverent. Everyone is wearing a bland uniform.
Are we raising a generation of girls who, although drawn to softness and ruffles, don't see them modeled? Children's TV shows have downplayed femininity in the name of equality, but lately, everything seems a bit too homogenized. There's a total acceptance of every possible option for characters, except for being a non-silly, smart, yet dainty girl — like Barbie, who earned her first of several college degrees in 1963. After 150 careers, she proved it's possible to be brilliant and still rock a pretty dress.
Although I climbed trees, fished, and rolled in the grass with puppies, I also loved to play princess. I had options. My parents modeled what grown up men and women looked like, and I knew I wanted to be like my mother someday and wear a jingly charm bracelet and mascara. For the record, I still go fishing and roll around with puppies — while wearing lipstick.
Did other girls from my generation grow up to dress more casually? Sure, they did, but the point is, we had a choice. We saw male and female differences and found our place to belong. Today's little girls see nothing but a uniform of T-shirts and stretchy pants.
Barbie is the champion of choices, portrayed as an astronaut and Army Medic. She also presents the possibility of being a lovely lady in a fluffy dress. Unlike Barbie's varied examples, society has removed the choices and lessons of feminine behavior. "Yes, my darling, you can be anything you want to be, and we'll support you completely as long as you don't want to wear a pink hair bow." It's no wonder Barbie is making a comeback. She may be using her tiny high heels to kick down the door of heavy-handed equality and remind us that it's okay to be a girl, even if you're the mom.
This story first appeard in Lagniappe News, Mobile, Alabama