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Better Barbie This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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I don’t have any alumni ties to Brown, though it’s possible I could be the long-lost granddaughter of James S. Miller. Never have I sailed the Pacific Ocean on the back of a humpback whale, nor can I wrap sushi with the skill of former Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. I haven’t done much research regarding podiatry, and chances are I will never win the Michigan Mega-Millions lottery. I am, however, the proud owner of a Little Mermaid Edition Barbie.

At some point in almost every little girl’s life, she becomes engrossed in the Pepto-Bismol-pink world of Barbies, a place I entered at the age of seven. My sister, Hannah, and I decided to take our collection of 11-inch plastic friends for a dip in the pool one sweltering summer day. Hours of giggling resulted from tossing the Barbies as high as we could into the air and watching them dive gracefully into the waves. Three … two … one, I launched my Little Mermaid doll in the same fashion as Apollo 11. We watched her rocket into the sky. I glanced at my sister, who was scrambling through her scorecards to make sure she had the well-deserved “10” ready. My eyes returned upward, anticipating the gymnastic stunts Barbie would undoubtedly deliver to her enraptured audience. Where was she? The crowd was growing restless. Had she landed on the moon?

Utterly bewildered, we combed through the freshly mown grass and woods, but unfortunately, our search bore no fruit. After a moment of sorrow, our tiny attention spans directed us to a different game, and our minds fluttered away.

Over the years, I encountered many of my own quirky adventures. As a field biologist intern, I camped for 15 days on an uninhabited island, purified my own water, surveyed the endangered Piping Plover, tested the water quality of lakes, and found my way out of 70,000 acres of northern Michigan wilderness. My view of the world broadened through travels and encounters with the Costa Rican, German, French, and Australian cultures. I won varsity letters, had my poetry published, and volunteered at a local hospital, and as I grew older, the mystery of the once-beloved Little Mermaid Edition Barbie faded into a misty memory.

One recent fall day, rainbow-colored leaves swirled through the air and the chilly breeze carried its pleasant scent, an amalgamation of bonfire and pumpkin. Upon the rooftop was not good Saint Nick, but rather my dad, cleaning the leaves off our house. Tied to the branch of an ancient oak tree, the tire swing moved my body in a pendulum motion. My dad approached with something dark in his hands. “Eh … does this belong to you, or Hannah?” he said with a look of perplexity painted on his face. I couldn’t believe my eyes: It was the Little Mermaid Edition Barbie! The poor girl – she was an absolute disaster. I affirmed my ownership of the traveler, and took her battered body in my hands.

Nine years had passed since I had seen the almost-world-renowned Olympic diver. I recalled that summer day and smiled as memories flooded my mind. She looked as though she’d been struck by lightning a few times, weathered heavy monsoons, and held onto the gutter for dear life during tornados. Her mangled arm appeared to have been mistaken for a worm by a ferocious momma bird. Leaves, dirt, and other debris were entwined in her once shiny, cherry locks. Her attire was tattered – she seemed to have fashioned herself a Tarzan-esque ensemble. Her ingenuity was impressive; it reminded me of an experience in which I had to craft socks out of a garbage bag and medical tape, then wear them for three days in pouring rain. Nevertheless, one thing stood out as I ogled my long-lost friend: her face.

She wore a radiant smile, a look of contentment, self-confidence, and accomplishment. With head held high and a positive attitude, she had battled life’s unexpected challenges. She knows now what it means to strive and succeed. I realized the world of pink doesn’t fit someone with so much potential, so much passion for learning, so much heart, independence, and creativity. I looked at her and saw myself reflected in her sapphire eyes.

Like her, my dreams lie far beyond those of a Stepford wife, and with the ability to bend and not break, I am ready to step out of my plastic box society, through the Van Winkle gates, and into a world of endless possibilities. I crave the works of Thoreau and Emerson, not mall directories or grocery lists. I desire adventure and the opportunity to study new cultures. I long to write what I want and voice my opinions with my whole heart behind them. And as the Little Mermaid Edition Barbie sits on my shelf, next to musical and athletic trophies, behind silly pictures of friends, and alongside books by Maya Angelou and Lewis Carroll, she reminds me of myself. For this ambitious girl, pink is not enough; she is ready to dive into Brown.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the May 2008 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.




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This article has 132 comments. Post your own!

jessek said...
Feb. 22, 2009 at 8:00 am:
thank you guys for all the nice comments! i worked really hard on this essay :) unfortunately i did not get into brown, but i am currently attending the university of michigan and loving it! thanks again for all the nice comments, they made my day!
 
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ShamrockWriter said...
Jan. 19, 2009 at 9:21 pm:
Absolutely fantastic. That was one of the best, most interesting, and true-to-life essays I have ever had the fortune of coming across. It inspires me and reminds me of my blissful childhood memories. Good luck to you and keep writing!
 
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briannabear22 said...
Jan. 12, 2009 at 2:25 am:
excellent, i loved it.
 
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polkaorange said...
Dec. 22, 2008 at 10:10 pm:
i LOVED IT! esp the last line. actually the whole essay.awesome
 
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Joy said...
Dec. 5, 2008 at 10:35 pm:
This is an incredible essay. The last line is particularly compelling and ties the entire essay all together. Did you get into Brown? With an essay like that, I don't see how they could have rejected you.
 
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ameliacp said...
Nov. 6, 2008 at 12:14 am:
absolutely loved it!!! good luck!
 
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rarlom said...
Oct. 10, 2008 at 3:57 pm:
The ending is clever-"pink is not enough; she is ready to dive into Brown". So d'ja get in?
 
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rachee said...
Oct. 4, 2008 at 2:42 am:
Loved it! I hope you got into Brown! The way you blended the barbie and your life and characteristics was amazing!
 
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Limwen said...
Sept. 27, 2008 at 10:05 pm:
I loved this essay. Did you get in to Brown?
 
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yeee said...
Sept. 26, 2008 at 6:35 am:
bravo, bravo, that was honestly AMAZING. bravvo!!!
 
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addEASE said...
Sept. 20, 2008 at 5:15 pm:
this is the most memorable essay i have read so far. it is amazing how you intertwined so many different elements of who you are, brilliantly and concisely.
 
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jdarling said...
Aug. 15, 2008 at 1:54 pm:
Very impressive! Wish I could have written it myself--from the looks of your essay it looks like we would be really great friends.
The line that particularly struck me was craving Emerson and Thoreau, not mall directories or grocery lists. Great job, and good luck with Brown (it's one of my first choices too...see you there?).
 
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