Hi, I’m Vicky, and I’m addicted to the color pink, Barbie, and anything that sparkles. I accept my powerlessness over these addictions, and you know what? I’m no longer ashamed of them.
When I was thirteen, my mother sent me to an all-girls boarding school in Connecticut. Many of my stereotypical assumptions were indeed met. In Sociology, we devoured Judith Butler, Betty Friedman, and Naomi Wolf; in Philosophy, we examined The Second Sex; in History, disproportionate emphasis was placed on the waves of feminism and women’s suffrage.
Most of the girls dressed androgynously and flashed dirty looks at my painted face. Whenever girls would come hang out in my room, they condemned the aesthetic display of collectible Barbies on my windowsill, commencing never-ending tirades on how the doll is responsible for the prevalence of eating disorders, low self-esteem, and unattainable beauty standards. I couldn’t help but tune out and wonder how one could blame an inanimate object for so many wrongs, and I wondered whether people simply needed a scapegoat for their personal insecurities.
As the year progressed, I started to get bogged down in such a judgmental atmosphere. The majority of the student body was made up of smart, interesting, multidimensional, funny girls with whom I otherwise got along. If all of these intellectual individuals—teachers included— believed that being feminine was not one’s default, but rather a subconscious manipulation of societal expectations, perhaps there was some truth in their perspectives and I was the one missing something. Unsure, I was nevertheless eager to fit into the place I would call home for the next four years. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” right? I replaced my dresses with jeans, stopped wearing makeup, stored my dolls under the bed, and stopped playing devil’s advocate to every feminist situation examined in class.
One day after classes, I was watching Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse. For the first time, I critically analyzed what I was watching, and what I found surprised me. Barbie does lead a luxurious lifestyle in the Dreamhouse, complete with chandeliers in the bathroom, though she is by no means a materialist. She spends her time with her friends and family, partaking in wholesome activities. She is a responsible older sister, a fun girlfriend, and a loyal friend. Although she does engage in feminine activities like baking in heels, she also builds houses, rides a motorcycle, is always down for an impromptu adventure, is unimpressed by fame, and always stands up for her loved ones. She is polite, never forgetting her pleases and thank-yous, and she constantly spews motivational advice such as “The most beautiful thing you can be is yourself” and “What makes you different just might be your greatest strength.” Although these may sound corny to the adult reader, they can positively shape young viewers.
Re-inspired to embrace my femininity, I delicately placed my dolls back on the windowsill. In classes, I started approaching texts with a blank slate rather than reading with my teacher’s interpretations in the back of my mind. Although my peers may have believed they were being true feminists in their condemnations of anything remotely feminine, my re-interpretation of our readings created a huge disparity in reasoning. Friedman proclaimed that women could only be fulfilled if they had careers, yet I see more value in the extremely demanding task of raising a family. Friedman, like most, was blinded by the context of her time: 1950’s America. I also failed to be persuaded by Wolf, who blamed patriarchy for every issue plaguing women, without acknowledging the strength of the female psyche to hold its ground in face of beauty-standardizing media. I surprisingly found no views with which I agreed besides the true definition of feminism: that men and women are equal. Everything else was superfluous fluff created by incomplete examinations of one’s society and a desire to blame the Other—being men or overall patriarchy—rather than admitting one’s inability (or unwillingness) to take accountability for one’s beliefs and feelings.
In learning how to conduct textual analyses without any preconceived notion of the writer’s message, I returned to my true self. My go-to Karaoke song is still Barbie Girl, I still dream of a ’57 Dusk Rose T-Bird, and for as long as I live, I will continue to embrace my femininity—and to me, that is feminism.