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When Did I Stop Being Barbie and Become Mrs. Potato Head?Learning to Embrace the Woman You've Become
By Mary Pierce
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Act your shoe size! Be a child again! Play more!" The motivational speaker shouted his prescription for stress relief. Act my shoe size? How, I wondered, does an eight-and-a-half-year-old act? Could I even remember?
My friend Karen started acting her shoe size when she turned fifty. She began collecting Barbie dolls. "Why Barbie?" I asked as I examined the 1963 Fashion Queen Barbie she had just scored on eBay. This doll came complete with a white-and-gold-lamé striped swimsuit, a matching turban, and three wigs-blonde, brunette, and red.
"I don't remember any red-haired Barbies," I said.
"That's not red. It's titian," Karen corrected me.
"Pardon me," I said. I had no fashion sense whatsoever. "Tell me again. Why Barbie?"
"We were so poor when I was little, I only had one doll-a Barbie doll," Karen explained. "She got lost in the shuffle when we moved, and I've always wanted another. I'm in my second childhood, I guess."
It's a nice bonus in life when we get to live out our childhood longings-like eating a whole box of Twinkies by yourself. Or a whole gallon of ice cream. Or a whole pound of bacon. (You understand now why I never identified much with Barbie.)
Collecting Barbie and her accessories was great for my friend Karen who grew up in Southern California and has managed to maintain her face and her slim, fit figure. Like the fashion dolls, she dresses in coordinated outfits with more than a little pizzazz. She's from "the coast," and like all women from either coast, she has "that certain something"-sparkle, élan, a Big City air about her.
I, on the other hand, am from the Midwest, and-the obvious cultural panache of the Chicago stockyards aside-girls from my part of the country tend to be considered, well, sturdy. Not terribly glamorous. We're the ones whose grandfathers bragged that their women were "strong, like bulls." We're the ones whose favorite color is brown, as long as it's not too exciting a shade of brown.
It was quite an aesthetic shock for us when Barbie came along. Va-va-va-voom! Barbie had the hair, the legs-and let's be honest, the breasts-of our dreams. She had the clothes, the house, and the cars of our fantasies. Hers was the life we wanted. She even had our dream man.
We longed for our own Ken, a dreamboat who would love us without reservation, always be near us, and always be ready for our next adventure together. The perfect man for our happily ever after.
I'm evidently still dreaming some of those dreams, all these years later. Why else would I have tried every fad diet that's hit the market? Why else would I have three wardrobes, in three different sizes, in my closet? Why else would I have this vague sense, almost all my life, of not being quite good enough, not pretty enough, not cool enough, not measuring up to the ideal? Why else, when I look in the mirror at my perfectly acceptable five-foot-seven-inch frame, do I still imagine what it would be like to be five-foot-ten, weigh 110 pounds, and have size-three feet? It's got to be Barbie. She's haunting me.
EMBRACING MY INNER GIRL
A few days after visiting my real-life Barbie friend Karen, I was driving around doing my grown-up errands, and I got to thinking about what that motivational speaker said. What did it mean to "act your shoe size"?
"Okay, Inner Eight-and-a-Half-Year-Old," I said aloud in the car. "What do you want to do?" The answer came instantly, as if I had a backseat full of kids screaming, "We want toys! We want toys!"
"All right, all right!" I said as I headed for Target. "But you're only getting one! And if you start misbehaving in the store, we're going straight home." I glanced in the rearview mirror and remembered I was alone. My inner girl giggled.
"Don't make me stop this car," I muttered.
In Target, I stood for a moment in the toy department, taking deep breaths. I didn't feel like a harried mother, as I had on so many past Christmas trips to this department. I felt nothing like a doting grandmother, as I had on more recent occasions. I just stood in the aisle, looking down the long rows of primary-colored delight, taking it all in.
I felt small, almost like the child I used to be. I was tempted to get down on my knees to gain a true child's perspective, but was embarrassed by the thought of having to call store security to help me back up. And I was afraid bending like that might cause permanent damage to my knees.
I strolled through the toy department, looking at the dizzying display of merchandise, listening for something to speak to my inner girl. I passed an array of army men, G.I. Joe and his buddies; they were all my brothers' shoe sizes. The assorted toy cars and trucks in all makes and models didn't appeal to me either. They reminded me of adult problems like repair bills and midnight calls to unlock the kids' cars. (Why do such calls always come at midnight, during a blizzard?)
My inner child tugged at my pant leg, urging me to the next aisle. I turned the corner. The doll aisle. Oh goody, my inner girl said. This is more like it.
I had been an eight-year-old doll freak. I had a Tiny Tears baby doll (cousin to Betsy Wetsy) that came with miniature Ivory soap, Johnson's baby powder, and her own wee little washcloth and miniature towel. A tiny plastic baby bottle was included, and she wore a diaper. She was actually a future mommy training tool, disguised as a doll, but we were clueless. "Drinks, wets, and cries real tears," was this baby doll's selling point. The same could be said for her today, if she were repackaged as "Menopause Doll." I'd buy one, just for the companionship.
Back then I also had a huge (by little girl standards) stuffed rag doll named Lulu. One day, a neighbor boy whacked Lulu across my brother's knee and her head flew off. My mother sewed it back on. Several times. Lulu taught me one of the enduring lessons of womanhood: When life whacks you so hard your head flies off, sew it back on and keep going. After a while, Lulu had lost so much of her stuffing she could no longer remain upright without support. I know that feeling.
A rubber-skinned doll I called Linda had cotton stuffing that had gotten wet and then moldy. She stunk, but I couldn't get rid of her. My friend Cary and I played "doll wedding" in our living room and, since Ken and G.I. Joe hadn't been invented yet, we made Linda the groom. Linda's foul odor didn't seem so out of character when she was pretending to be a boy.
For Christmas the year I was in sixth grade, my mother gave me a bride doll. She was dressed in a beautiful white gown and veil. Supposedly an adult female, this bride was flat-chested, with chubby child legs and Mary Jane shoes. She may have been dressed like a grown-up bride, but, underneath it all, she was just a little girl. (Aren't all young brides?) She was my last doll.
I got kind of misty, standing there in Target remembering all those happy hours. Then I spotted the Barbie dolls. I sighed. My inner girl sighed. My friend Karen and her inner seven-year-old loved Barbie, but was Barbie for us? Had she ever been? I'd never been that glamorous, and certainly never that top-heavy. I didn't need a fashion doll reminding me how far I was from the ideal.
I gave up trying to find the right doll. My inner girl was disappointed; she needed the consolation of a hot fudge sundae. We headed out of the toy department when, suddenly, I saw her-the doll that sang out to my heart, speaking not only to the child I once was but to the woman I am today.
MRS. POTATO HEAD
I picked up the box and the memories flooded my mind-fond memories of real potatoes poked full of plastic eyes and lips, ears and arms. Real potatoes lying under the bed for days, shriveling and rotting, until my mother went snooping to find the source of the stench.
"What is this?" she'd shriek, holding the wrinkled mess up for inspection.
"Grandma Potato Head?" I'd suggest.
Mrs. Potato Head had been a favorite toy back then, and I knew in an instant that she represented my true self, then and today. The real me was not a sweet innocent baby doll and certainly not a sleek, sophisticated fashion doll. Mrs. Potato Head was the very image of the sturdy, sensible girl I'd always been and the sturdy, sensible woman I'd become. This was the toy that made my inner child want to skip all the way home.
Later at home at my kitchen table, I assembled Mrs. Potato Head carefully, following the illustrations on the box. I realized immediately that Mrs. Potato Head is a middle-aged woman. She's low fat, high fiber, and high carb-all of which I strive to be. She comes with reading glasses and a sun visor. She knows the UV ray is not her friend.
Into the holes in Mrs. P's plastic body, I inserted her eyes (my favorite shade of periwinkle), her round nose, and her full red lips. Mrs. Potato Head had evidently read the same beauty advice articles I'd read; she knew that lipstick is a necessity for women over forty. She also knew that the most important thing to remember when putting on lipstick is to agree with God about where your lips should end.
I inserted her ears and added her loop earrings, slipped her arms into place just under her ears, and then stuck on her feet. I stood her on the table. I noticed her middle-age spread had sunk so low she no longer had knees. Oh, yeah. My kind of woman.
I hung her red plastic purse on her arm and sat back to admire my handiwork. My heart sang. Yes! Mrs. Potato Head evoked images from my childhood-endearing, sweet images. She made me smile, relieved my stress. I felt eight-and-a-half again, and it was grand.
Later that day, I came through the kitchen and glanced at Mrs. Potato Head. One of my daughters had obviously seen her too, for Mrs. P's full red lips had been removed, and in their place, she was sticking out her pink plastic tongue. A 'tater with attitude, I thought. She made me smile again.
Later that same day, I walked by and noticed Mrs. P's sun visor was missing, leaving her head shining and bald. One of her earrings was hanging from her tongue. Shaving her head and piercing her tongue was a bold fashion move for a middle-aged woman. Go for it, Mrs. P, I thought. Just go for it!
Mrs. Potato Head is a lot like me-perfectly ordinary. Like me, she's a little lumpy and a little dumpy compared to the high-fashion dolls and the high-tech toys, but she's capable of "copping an attitude" when necessary.
I moved Mrs. Potato Head to my office, where she looks down at me as I write, reminding me every day that laughter is as necessary to good health as water and air, fiber and vitamins. Ten laughs is my minimum daily requirement. To get that, it helps if I act my shoe size once in a while.
A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. Proverbs 17:22 The Message
Chapter TwoLaughter-that daily requirement for good mental health-is a gift from God. It's healing, and it makes us feel younger. That's why I decided to start each day asking, "What's funny today, Lord?" Ask and ye shall receive.
I'm not a morning person. I can roll out of bed, take my shower, and be half-dressed before I even begin to wake up. One morning I stepped out of the shower, grabbed the hair mousse, filled my palms with the fluffy goop, and, still half asleep, slapped it on my cheeks. It dried in seconds, giving me an instant face-lift-much cheaper than plastic surgery.
God's greatest kindness, I've heard, is that the eyes go as the wrinkles come. I have one of those magnifying makeup mirrors on the counter in my bathroom. The mirror has a strip of lights-très Hollywood-on each side. I'm certain a young person with perfect skin invented this mirror. Nobody over forty wants to see their face so up close and personal, in light bright enough to perform microsurgery, illuminating every wrinkle, dent, and sag.
I don't like the mirror, but with the lights and the magnification, I can put on my makeup without wearing my bifocals or contacts. The mirror has several lighting options. The "daylight" setting is the cruelest; nothing is hidden under the sun. "Office" imitates the irritating glare of fluorescent lighting for those who want to recreate workplace pallor at home. Set on "evening," the soft lights give my skin a lovely radiance. But what good does it do? A girl can't very well haul the mirror with her for a night on the town, turn it on at the table, and ask her dinner date, "Would you please hold this over my face while I eat my lobster? I want to glow."
Some days I think a "midnight" setting might be nice. The darkness would be a welcome relief-no wrinkles, no age spots, no sagging. The only concern would be jamming my mascara wand into my eyeball, but I do that in "daylight" now anyway.
Looking at my magnified face one morning, I asked aloud, "What's funny today, Lord?" I smiled into the mirror. Maybe it was the distortion of the magnifying side or the glare of the lights, but I looked like Jack Nicholson-in his role as the Joker in Batman.
I ran to my husband, who was minding his own business watching the morning news in the adjacent bedroom.
"Honey," I cried, "do you think I look like Jack Nicholson?"
He didn't even look up. "In which movie?" he asked.
Laughter lifts our spirits and may even be heart healthy, according to medical studies. One expert said such research confirms the old axiom that "laughter is the best medicine." Those experts could have saved a lot of time, to say nothing of thousands of research dollars, if they had just read Proverbs 17:22, where that "old axiom" comes from: "A joyful heart is good medicine" (NASB). It's nice when modern science confirms what God told us ages ago.
We can stay heart healthy, according to the experts, by finding humor in day-to-day situations. They gave an example of such humor: "You arrive at a party and discover someone else is wearing your same outfit. How do you respond?"
I can tell you how I responded when I arrived at a fancy business function one night. I had dressed with care in my best outfit-a black velveteen jacket with a white ruffly blouse and my best black slacks. To my horror, I saw that the entire catering staff was dressed exactly like me. Call me a sourpuss, but I didn't find this one bit funny.
During the evening, one of the caterers handed me a tray of crab puffs. I took one and said, "Thanks." He glared at me, pushed the tray toward me, and hissed, "Start passing!"
I decided I had nothing to lose. I met several interesting gentlemen as I passed the canapés. One asked me for directions to the men's room. One asked me to get his coat from the checkroom.
Excerpted from When Did I Stop Being Barbie and Become Mrs. Potato Head? by Mary Pierce Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan . Excerpted by permission.
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