Monday, November 8, 2010

Miss No-Name vs. Barbie

The Originals. Friends after all these years?
I saw an ad on TV recently for some new shower products with the preposterous names of “Happy Sensation” and “Touch of Happiness.” Grousing aloud to the cats, I told them that whoever came up with names like these must think the public is comprised of total idiots. Just because they include the word “happy” and show smooth-skinned seductresses joyously lathering up in high def, how can they imagine that we could fall prey to this nonsense?                                                                                                                                                          
By mid-afternoon, I was thinking about the products.  The flowers pictured on the bottles were certainly pretty, weren’t they?  And those names seemed kind of cute, after all. Maybe my life might, indeed, seem rosier if these bottles of happiness were lined up, like little soldiers, in my shower? Dinner came and went. The kitchen was tidied—suddenly, I was in the car hurtling toward CVS. On the trip home, my purchases safely on the seat beside me, I sheepishly acknowledged what a gullible idiot I am and started thinking about advertising and its’ huge role in our daily lives.
When I was little, we never bought name brand soda but, nonetheless, I harbored an overwhelming desire to lean against a convertible drinking from a can of Coke while laughing uproariously with my attractive, slender friends. Instead, my grandmother and I would wait for the soda truck and the green glass bottles of black cherry soda handed down by a man with a great big smile and a bushy beard who couldn’t have cared less about my need to feel like part of the mainstream. We were all either immigrants or children of immigrants—advertising, shmadvertising—we were lucky to be in America.
But for me, that was the point.Coke was America. So were sneakers. In the 1960’s, sneakers were an annual purchase made once school ended in June. For summer use only, if your mother was really cool, you’d be allowed to wear them with no socks. But the commercials on TV were for Keds. Keds were snappy. They were worn by members of the in-crowd. And they had that fabulous blue rubber rectangle on the back of the heel so the world knew you were part of that in-crowd. They were also more expensive than P.F. Flyers. I knew from an early age that I would never be part of that crowd thanks to my P. F. Flyers.
Money was tight but when I started noticing ads for Barbie dolls, I knew I needed to be part of all that. Barbie was perfect. Besides a tiny waist, she had a great car, a fabulous home and a boyfriend who had no…well, you know. I had to have her. Instead, I got a doll who had no name at all. She was cute and could wear the clothes that my mother stayed up all night sewing by dim light (not kidding) and she also had a boyfriend with no…well, you know but she wasn’t Barbie. I eventually received a real Barbie as a gift and was so in awe of her status that I was barely able to play with her. I still have them. Miss No-Name (who was later joined by more no-name pals) is haggard from use. Barbie is in great condition.  And, by the way, she was never very nice to Miss No-Name. I should have noticed back then that something was up with that plastic bitch.
It took some time for me to realize that having name brands didn’t matter. In some circles, it's a ticket to acceptance and even some masochistic form of popularity but as we gain a bit more perspective, we realize that this is not what’s important. I backslide occasionally--even in my hard-won supposed maturity, a certain handbag line may seem preferable to another and clearly, shower gel with a ridiculous name can cause me to blunder into the night wearing weird sweatpants but, for the most part, I manage to resist the illusion that is advertising. I think I’m going to dig out my old dolls and apologize to Miss No-Name. She had a lot more personality than Barbie now that I think of it. I hope she forgives me.


  1. I did have Barbie and quite a few of her friends and relatives but Mom stopped at the wardrobe - she gave me fabric scraps and $.65 Simplicity Barbie patterns for clothes. And what a monster that created! Never a day when I'm not at a sewing machine!
    BUT - I proudly wore my PF Flyers, non conformist I could be!

  2. LOL, i too had no-names. Tammy and her damn boyfriend who didn't fit in the barbie car, "Dave wide legs" because when you when to sit him in the car his legs were spread. Does Barbie still have the power to influence? 2 1/2 year old Lina "beheaded" her Barbies on the coffee table. What does it mean!!??!!