A Real Live Doll
I wrote this in 1998, and just like I transformed into a woman of substance and (with age) more girth, Mattel's decision to create a more realistic Barbie, seems like a transformation of significance and a reason to resurrect this original piece. For my complete story, check out my memoir, From Sex Appeal to Self Appeal.
A Real Live Doll
“You have Barbie hair,” my hairdresser said as he trimmed the ends of my long blond hair.
“You look just like Barbie,” the customer quipped as I stood before him with exposed cleavage in a short, shimmery blue cocktail dress.
A different gentleman extended his hand and said, “Hi, my name is Ken.”
“Hi, my name is Barbie,” I retorted with an overzealous smile. I didn’t really call myself Barbie but it was an opportunity I couldn’t resist since so many people had been commenting recently how I looked like the doll.
People had been saying I looked like Barbie, but until I mirrored her presence I didn’t know.
My name is Vixen. I am a topless dancer.
I wasn’t always a Barbie. Before I became a Barbie, I was buried in my work as a laser technician and used my intellect to forge my life. As a single woman surrounded by men for most of my technical career, I observed the men ogling and drooling over pretty women. I heard their comments about women, positive and negative. Women in skirts, women in jeans, overweight women, thin women, short-haired women, long-haired women, older women, younger women—it didn’t seem to matter; there were always comments. I observed their swimsuit calendars of busty alluring women. My image of what men noticed in a woman was reinforced: slim, large breasts, long legs, long hair. I heard the stories of women they fantasized about: blond women like Madonna, Sharon Stone, Kim Bassinger; women magnified and idolized as being sexually liberated and independent.
For three years I had flown throughout the United States as a Laser Service Technician where I experienced first-hand men’s adulation of or disinterest towards me depending upon what I was wearing. If I wore slacks or didn’t wear make up, I passed unnoticed. If I wore a dress and primped, men would extend help with luggage or service without my even asking for it.
Within my profession I became aware of being disregarded in technical conversations. If I were discussing an issue with two men, I was, for the most part, completely ignored, and the men would conduct their discussions around me. Insecure about my trouble-shooting abilities to begin with, I stood there feeling like a nonperson, feeling like I had no important contribution to make while the men carried on scientific analysis together. When I did finally try to interject opinion or solution, they’d look my way, acknowledge my existence, then resume their dialogue.
Working along-side my male colleagues in my jeans, hard hat, and sterile clean-room lab coat, I was overlooked as a woman and overlooked as an intelligent woman. I was not being noticed and revered as were other women I saw being exclaimed over. I identified what felt to me like a woman’s power within the male sphere—beauty.
Why I call Myself Barbie
I, like Barbie, materialized in California. Though her first public display in 1959 was at the American Toy Fair in New York City, she was the idea of Ruth and Elliot Handler in Hawthorne, California. Though I was born in 1960 in Milwaukee, my Barbie character first emerged in San Francisco, California in spring, 1995. Her original casting was in Japan, while I spent formative years on the island of Okinawa. Barbie's founder, Elliot Handler, was in the army for one year while my father remained in the service for twenty years. Barbie was starting her own world-wide journey into the homes and hearts of civilization everywhere, while I was traveling around the world with my family in the United States Army free-relocation program.
Barbie became “Superstar Barbie” in 1976 riding in a hot pink corvette, and I was finishing high school driving a new silver Ford Pinto. I’ve since graduated to a more Barbie-like car, a blue Honda Del Sol with removable top for those warm California days. She was running around in a Star Traveler Motor home and I was traveling around in an adolescent, angst-ridden, stupor. No wonder it took me so long to get to be the star attraction she was. I slowly learned to reinvent myself while she had scores of people helping her.
In 1978 when Barbie was trying to explain how she earned her money I was experimenting with odd jobs and stereotypical women’s work. I attended a year of business school to become a Legal Secretary then worked as a receptionist, proofreader, data processor, fork-lift driver, gas-station attendant, waitress, and assembly-line worker before attending technical college. In 1984 Workout Barbie was introduced and in 1986 I followed suit with excessive/compulsive exercising.
As a child I never had a Barbie doll. I first made her acquaintance in May, 1997 when some dear friends bought me “Shopping Spree” Barbie. Dressed in an FAO Schwarz sweatshirt, purple stretch pants and a matching FAO Schwarz hat, she came to life sitting before me. Gazing into the cherubic face with wide blue eyes complete with blue eyeliner and exceptionally long lashes, the wide pink lips framing a perfect row of white teeth, I noted the symmetrically perfect upturned nose and lightly-rouged dimpled cheeks. I was stunned at the resemblance. I too have long blond hair, blue eyes, large breasts, and a slim waist. My dear friends also bought me a matching FAO Schwarz sweatshirt and knowing my fondness for the color purple they weren’t surprised when I exclaimed, “I’ve even got matching pants and tennis shoes. We could be twins!”
Barbie has often been referred to as an “other woman.” Some may refer to me, as well as all women who dance in men’s clubs, as other women. We simulate perfection: no one sees us without our makeup, or first thing in the morning with our hair sticking up; no one sees us angry, or sad, or immobile with stomach cramps; no one is yelled at or nagged by us to take out the garbage, or to talk about their feelings, or fix the car, or ….. As other women, we are perfect. Webster's defines doll as a child’s toy representing a human being. Within the club I am man’s toy.
Barbie is Born
After I’d worked in the scientific realm for twelve years, my hairdresser helped push me into becoming an objectified plaything. “You’ve got a great body, you should give stripping a try.” Boredom in my profession, financial burden, and absence of creativity in my life prompted me to think about his suggestion. How titillating. I had not thought about the erotic world as a job option, but now that the idea was planted it continued to sprout.
At the Gentlemen’s Club I watched the girls, all dressed in evening gowns with perfect hair and makeup, walk onto the stage and move bewitchingly for one song. In a well-rehearsed march they walked back to the dressing room after seductively posing and moving to Sister Sledge singing, “We are family, I got all my sisters and me.” They returned ten minutes later traipsing onto the stage in bikinis, moving and trying to look provocative while “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band filled our ears. After the parade, which I was told happened twice a day, I watched each girl take the stage by herself and dance to three songs while she slowly disrobed, finishing topless. The dancing looks easy, I thought.
My first few days I didn’t intend to make a lot of money but instead, excited to be starting something new and intriguing, and drained from spending all day at my technical job, I watched what the girls did. I studied the girls who had charisma on the stage, noticed what they did with their hands, their mouths, their eyes that would captivate the men. I paid attention to how they removed their clothes. I talked to the men. I asked what they came into the club for, what they liked or didn’t like about the dancers. “Something low cut to expose cleavage,” Steve, a frequent visitor, informed me. “A hand on the arm and a look in the eye gives that special touch.”
Barbie’s Beauty Regime
In 1965, “Slumber Party” Barbie was introduced. Her outfit featured a bathroom scale permanently set at one-hundred-ten pounds. This Barbie's religion isn’t Catholicism or Christianity, or Judaism, but physical fanaticism. I’d been exercising for seven years so I knew my body was in good shape, but the gym became even more of a religious experience after becoming a dancer. I now had a reason to sweat while pushing my muscles to their limits. Though Barbie (the smaller version) does not have huge muscles, her body is toned and does not display any sag or droop. At night I do facial exercises, curling my lips rhythmically over the top of my teeth to ward off tiny lip lines, and stretching my neck to deter sag.
Unlike Malibu Barbie I do not like to tan, instead I use Neutrogena instant tan. This takes practiced skill to apply because the oil must be smoothed over and over to ensure there are no streaks, and the hands and elbows need special finesse so they don’t become too dark.
I don’t like to curl and comb, tease and poof, so straight hair is a convenience for me. Working in the club I find that my long blond hair is an asset. It’s part of my arsenal of seduction. While on the stage I stand tall, back slightly arched to push my butt out for higher definition, and as I run my fingers through my hair slowly I let it fall, swishing my back and derriere. I flip my head and the hair follows like a fan. When I’m doing the personal dances I use my hair to create a tent which cascades down around the men’s heads, shielding us, if only briefly, from the club activity.
Barbie has eyelash rooting. I wear false eyelashes.
The makeup I wear is a second skin. The transformation from Susan—shy, conservative, monogamous—to Vixen, wanton, gregarious, teasing, occurs in the dressing room as layer upon layer of foundation, peach eye-shadow, dark brown eye-liner, false eyelashes, rouge, and pink lipstick is applied. I cover the spider veins with thick body make-up. I shield my true skin from the men’s gaze. Barbie's skin is an impenetrable thick plastic and my external portrayal to the world has always been one of toughness.
My voice automatically changes within the club. It’s not a conscious change, but somewhere I’ve internalized a nonthreatening dependent-on-a-man tone. I approach and introduce myself in high-pitched bird-like chatter. It’s the kind of voice that implies passivity, neediness. Outside the club, unafraid to expose my real self, my voice is deeper, more throaty, more man-like.
I drag my long painted nails down the men’s arms and legs.
Like the original doll, this Barbie has a delectable assortment of sexually bewitching, tight, revealing dresses. For this job, the tighter the better and the bikini worn underneath, the skimpier the better. On nights when I know there will be many girls working, upwards of fifty-five or more, I wear a particular bikini. It is three patches of white and is held together by strings. Literally, if one string broke the whole bikini would fly off into the surprised man’s arms. I call it the Secret Weapon because it is so skimpy that from a distance it looks like I’m not wearing anything. At other highly-competitive times I might wear a black lace push-up bra under an extremely low-cut evening gown to accentuate even further my breasts and cleavage.
I spend my evening in feet-crunching, toe-squishing high heels. Barbie wears high heels too, but her foot is in a permanent arch. I fear that if I dance for too much longer, mine will be also. Though platform shoes are more comfortable and are worn by many of my colleagues, this Barbie continues to wear spike heels. Spike heels are sometimes referred to as Limo shoes—stylish, yet back-breaking accessories. If you are going to be picked up in a limo, driven to a destination, sat down and maneuvered later, then yes, you can wear them. I wear them all night long—and dance in them.
In 1961, “Queen of the Prom” Barbie Game was introduced, wherein girls learned to shop, get boyfriends and if they got to the prom first, win. I play the grown up version of this in the club. I compete with all the other dancers using my looks, and I exploit the men’s fantasies to make my tips. If they want me to speak to them using my intellect, I will. If they have a leg fetish I display my legs that much more. If they like my butt, I dance it around in front of their faces. Like little girls playing house and dress-up with their Barbies, men project their fantasies onto me. “Do you like to be spanked?” they sometimes ask. I tell them, “yes.” Whether I do or not, they can believe. (They cannot spank me within the club.) I can also portray the materialistic dumbbell, the quintessential blond bimbo. “What do you like to do during the day?” they inquire. “I like to shop,” I chirp, which is farther from the truth than if I told them I’m a brain surgeon, but it fuels their fantasy of the luxuriant siren. The twelve-inch model with the permanent smile has no depth to her being and sometimes, in the club, neither do I. I take my cue from her and plaster the ephemeral smile on my face.
This Barbie's playground is like a huge sandbox where everyone can come and take off their inhibitions. The club is dimly lit with pounding bass and flashing lights creating an atmosphere of pulsating energy and innuendo. There is a main stage with a single brass pole to twirl around and hang onto. In the beginning of the night we line up on stage—Barbies on display. The DJ announces our names, where we’re from, and we vamp from one side of the stage to the other. Like Barbie to the world, I am a commercial product. I portray what men’s fantasies have stereotypically wanted women to be—alluring, available, assertive. Within the club we have carte blanche to be aggressive in our seduction. We conspicuously approach customers and solicit dances. We Barbies pursue the suited Kens.
Being Barbie isn’t easy. There is the constant scrutiny of one’s self: checking for unwanted body hair, pimples on the face and butt, constant worry about weight gain. I have to cover up flaws and natural skin abrasions that otherwise might be hidden by clothing. There is the added pressure of being in the spotlight and always having to be “up,” laughing and happy. At the end of the work evening this Barbie has aching feet, aching corns, aching back, a sore throat from talking over the din of the music and from smoky environments, and a swelled ego from so many men telling her she’s perfect.
This Barbie is aging. I have smile lines and forehead lines. I cannot stop this process, and I continually wrestle with the idea of minor laser surgery to eliminate the tiny wrinkles that are appearing around my eyes and mouth. But how far do I want to go with this? Do I want to try and stay youthful by having these lines removed? Do I want to continue working as a dancer excruciatingly concentrating on every physical flaw? Am I going to succumb to societies’ unreasonable obsession with youth and appearance? Barbie, the plastic doll, has an advantage over me in that she will never bloat or wrinkle and she has hundreds of people whose full-time job is to continually reinvent her.
Because of my opportunity to be a living doll inside the club I have the choice of being relaxed with my physical appearance outside. I play into the beauty myth inside. Outside, I do not wear much makeup. Outside, it doesn’t seem important. It doesn’t seem worth the effort and I have come to realize that my unmade face is quite beautiful all by itself. I’ve played Barbie. I have finally achieved being noticed, admired, and lusted after. Sometimes it’s flattering and energizing. Sometimes it’s one hell of a drain.