Schadenfreude

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Schadenfreude

Despite her pink wardrobe, Barbie is a serious dude when it comes to the important stuff of life.  If I had to characterize her value set, I’d put her somewhere between Nancy Drew and Wonder Woman. Maybe this is the influence of her more recent appearances in animated movies but when it comes to “doing the right thing”, Barbie is your gal.

I decided to be guided by Barbie’s example when she saves the Diamond Castle and music (saving music is a pretty important task, you’ve got to admit) from the evil muse, Lydia, and her brave actions when Barbie appears as Corinne in Barbie and the Three Musketeers (Tim Curry does the voice of the evil Philippe, incidentally) –

Corinne, the daughter of a Musketeer, hopes to one day follow in her father’s footsteps. However, when Corinne arrives in Paris to join the Musketeers she gets only laughs…Musketeers are for men only. Corinne ends up working as a castle housekeeper and meets 3 other housekeepers who have the same dream as Corinne. When strange happenings begin to put the Prince’s life in danger, it’s the swordmanship of Corinne and her new friends that prove worth the title of Musketeer.

Gurrrl power! Take the high road when faced with adversity and always keep some pink lipgloss in your epee sheath.

Last week I was unable to blog due to being otherwise occupied with working at our company conference where I was responsible for representing my area and manning our trade show booth. This involved starting at 6 am and finishing my day at around 11 pm for 3 days. I was supposed to be sharing this task with one of my co-workers, who had been chosen to attend the corporate feedback and strategy session along with the facebooking co-worker. Let’s call them the ugly stepsisters. Although I felt that as a more senior employee and having been at that office for a year longer than either of them I would have been a more appropriate choice, rather than being confrontational I accepted with a smile.

Stepsister 1 was supposed to arrive at 6:30 am to set up the booth with me on the first day. I was there at 6 am, finishing the set-up at around 7:15 by myself, and she sauntered in just after 7:30. Stepsister 2 was supposed to be helping my over-tasked colleague who had arrived just before 6 am – let’s call her Cinderella – to set up registration. Stepsister 2 ambled in at around 7:45 am and then retired to her hotel room in the afternoon for a 2 hour nap.  That evening, they both complained vociferously about poor organization and minor glitches, which irritated me considerably under the circumstances. I left as soon as the conference social event permitted, trying to hold my smile in place while I said good night.

I hear that the Stepsisters decided to continue the evening at the hotel bar with the two men in the office and several of the conference attendees. Tequila shots were involved. At some point, Stepsister 2 sat herself in the lap of my boss and sang a drunken rendition of happy birthday to one of their fellow drinkers while Stepsister 1 looked on giggling.

The next day, Stepsister 1 staggered in to the conference hall fifteen minutes late for the strategy session, looking (as Cinderella so aptly put it) like a “hot tranny mess”. I had arrived before 7 to get the booth in order and continued to supervise the booth while she disappeared to the bathroom every 20 minutes or so to puke up whatever remained in her stomach from the previous night. Stepsister 2, who was supposed to be taking notes at the morning strategy session, didn’t even appear until 2 in the afternoon. I took a perverse delight in seeing their wan faces, drained of all colour except for a bilious shade of green, and made sure to speak to them in especially high-pitched and energetic tones.

Is it truly schadenfreude when the parties involved have actively brought on their miserable situation? In any case, Barbie’s make-up and ethics were intact and she did not have to engage in a battle of the skanks.

It remains to be seen whether there will be any fall-out at all from these events. Judging from the experience to date, it is possible that nothing will even be mentioned, which I suppose confirms that eventual escape from the sleaze-pit is the only long-term option. Nonetheless, Barbie and Cinderella have the satisfaction of having done the right thing so the music could play on.

 

Stop the bus

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It will be a short story today. This morning I was walking to the bus stop when I saw my bus at the corner and managed to get across one set of lights but was stuck at the corner waiting to cross while the light turned green for the bus to advance. On every other occasion when this had happened in the past, the bus never stopped or waited despite my futile attempts to wave and signal it to stop. Today, however, when the light turned green to let both of us go, the bus stopped in the middle of the intersection and the doors magically opened to let me get on. Given that I was wearing somewhat high wedge sandals, I wasn’t exactly sprinting toward the door, but the driver didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it was the Barbie effect and maybe it wasn’t…but it was a great way to start the day.

And by the way, I am apparently not alone in my pursuit of all things Barbie –

We make you look young

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Sunday was a day to do laundry, groceries, go to the gym and the beauty salon, which occupied a good 2 hours of the day. Barbie did not have time to read the paper.

At the gym and dressed in the requisite pink Tshirt and matching hair scrunchie, I did my regular workout, taking extra care with the weights to avoid a deadly tangle of long hair and machinery. 

When I arrived at the salon, my plan was to get a simple mani-pedi, however, the Vietnamese girl doing my pedicure had other ideas.  “You get waxed now” she instructed me with an encouraging smile and “and threading, too. We make you look young”. This was completely unsolicited on my part but the promise of youth through threading was too tempting to refuse.  As I sat obediently while she ran the two threads over my eyebrow area, upper lip and chin, I heard the same refrain repeated to the other women in the salon: “We make you look young”. For those unfamiliar with threading, the two threads are quickly twisted to rip a number of fine hairs from the hair shaft repeatedly and the sensation is akin to being poked with dozens of small needles simultaneously. It is a kind of torture that is tolerable at first but becomes increasingly unbearable as the process continues. “Just a bit more” the girl said brightly, “We make you look young”.  By the time she was done, I was suitably smooth and put up no resistance when she said I should get a flower painted on my toenail.  Lest you think that this extreme grooming is easy or cheap, let me assure you it is neither.

However, there is part of me that says, women are kind of lucky we have this ability to transform ourselves with a little store-bought hair, nail enamel and make-up. We can fool the casual passer-by even when the bloom is off the rose. Having lived in South America for many years, I observed first-hand the penchant of Latin women to wear make-up, skirts and heels for any and all occasions: certainly for the office and in most cases to buy groceries or meet a woman friend for coffee. When I first moved there and encountered it, I was scornful and uninterested in changing my practical sweatsuit attire for skirts and high heels when attending a birthday party for 3 year-olds. But that version of ubiquitous femininity slowly seeped into my consciousness. In truth, this Barbie did not spring into being from a tabula rasa; I had had years of experience applying petroleum by-products to my face. For some reason, I thought things were quite different back in Canada, my homeland of modern values and no gender stereotypes.

One of my friends commenting on the Barbie project said that she had learned that feminism vs femininity is not an either-or proposition.  The fact is, this whole issue is so complex it makes my head spin just to think about it. I am far from an expert and wasn’t around when feminism meant burning your bra nor was I in the workforce when a female powersuit was de rigueur; my generation was bequeathed the “women can have it all” theory of life. According to this utopic vision, there are no set gender roles and both women and men live in perfect and seamless harmony, both working full-time, raising kids together and keeping house while serving up healthy, organic home-cooked meals. It looks to me like that same edenic view prevails today. Feminism might be a non-issue, were it not for the fact that one of the few ways to actually live this dream is to have full-time domestic help, which is way beyond most people’s budget. Here in North America, people have to choose: one spouse pours more energy into work and the other into the home. Sometimes they trade spots but inevitably, choices have to be made.  Ironically, in South America where domestic help is cheap (for all kinds of reasons I don’t need to explain), working women actually do get to have it all. Femininity in the Barbie image – I should stress among the wealthier social classes – is not equated with being submissive and ditzy. The most powerful women in positions of responsibility in banks, government and industry are always groomed to a T.

I do not deny that Latino culture is still a very macho place and that brings its own set of problems, never mind that you would not be comfortable there if by any chance you happen to be outside the “male-man wanting his female-woman” definition of gender identity. However, the years I spent there did make me appreciate how good it feels to use a little assistance to play up your assets and splash in the fountain of youth for just a while longer. I am going to have to leave for another day some of the other tangents that spin out from this: whether men can do or are doing the same thing; whether it is unimportant for them and money and power are the only perfume they need to win in the mating game; what this means in terms of our inevitable advance to the time when no amount of assistance is going to perk up the wilting rose; whether there is something inherently demeaning in women grooming themselves to fit an uber-feminine image or whether this is simply an expression of personal style. At the very least, it is hard to say it is completely irrelevant.

And on that note, I will say goodnight for today – with a few photos of my office Barbie outfit on the sunny streets of Toronto.

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It’s a fine line between Trailer Trash and Barbie

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I’ve discovered that you have to be quite careful to accessorize properly if you want to sport long hair in middle age.  As is my habit after arriving home from work, I changed into sweatpants and a T-shirt before preparing dinner. I wanted to show my new heels to my daughter and slipped them on. “Mom!” she snorted “You look like trailer trash!” I caught a look at myself in the full-length mirror and she was absolutely right. It was an unmistakeable trailer trash greatest-hits-of-Walmart outfit. I quickly kicked off the heels and put my hair up in a loose ponytail. Another thought occurred to me: how was I going to manage my new hair, which I now noticed was very heavy when tied back, when doing my workout at the gym? Not to mention that I always wash my hair after a good, sweaty workout and this formerly simple activity was now going to take at least as much time as the actual workout. Yet Barbie has the quintessential fit figure; how does she do it? Oh, right – she’s a plastic doll.

Last night I went to a bar with a group of friends to hear a band play. I had gone to hear the same band play at the same bar last fall. Now, I was returning with a new look and I wondered if it would be different.  At first, I didn’t notice anything other than the same young-ish crowd (this being a relative statement since my group of friends are all in the pushing-50 age group).  However, as the evening wore on, these same young men began making their mating-dance moves on the dance floor, striking up conversation that bore a suspicious resemblance to a come-on, and otherwise trying to attract the attention of me and my sister.  Some of them were frighteningly young. I should mention that my sister, who is only two years younger than me, has long beautiful blonde hair and rocks her collection of extremely cute dresses and heels. By the end of the evening, a not-more-than 35 year old Irish fellow was telling me repeatedly that I had the most bewitching eyes and was very beautiful and that he lived nearby. He wasn’t even slurring when he said it and he was quite attractive himself, although part of the reason he said it various times might have had something to do with the loud music and the difficulty I had understanding his thick brogue. Still, I give him full marks for persistence. I felt like looking over my shoulder to see who he was addressing, or to check if it was some kind of joke.  I smiled at him and said he seemed like a very nice person but that I had to get back to my group of friends.  While I have been told I look younger than my age, I don’t think I look that much younger. My conclusion is that as the beer goggles go on, these fellows are only looking at the broader brush strokes of the women around them: skirt – check, long hair – check, dancing and upright – check. And that’s about where they stop their inventory.

My theory was further bolstered by the fact that the lead singer in this particular band is a high school classmate of my sister’s, hence our interest in traveling to an inconveniently located suburban pub to see him play (and of course, his band is a lot of fun and worth going all that way to see them) and he is able to pull off the sexy lead singer part very well. He has hair. Not just any hair – he has rocking hair that he pays big bucks to get cut in a downtown salon, with fringe-y bits coming down over his eyes and spike-y bits around his face. The outfits the band wears are a little juvenile and if you look closely, he has the same fine lines around his eyes and mouth that we all share but he can pull off the lead singer persona and get the crowd going, in part, because he has “the look”. Maybe it is merely because the look makes him feel more like a lead singer and less like a dad who has to change diapers by day, but it is definitely important enough to him to spend a chunk of change to achieve.

What does all this mean? Apparently I can flit among the younger crowd and pass for one of the natives.  However, does that actually help me to meet my “Ken”? I have no doubt about what that Irish fellow was proposing and I wasn’t buying. But even if I were interested in pursuing conversation with a potential male partner there, I suspect that only Demi and Ashton can actually pull off the October-May relationship gig. As one of my friends pointed out, just wait until the woman is 60 and the fellow is 45 – he will be hightailing it out of there.  Maybe I’m too traditional in my feelings on this, but I think that even if one can attract younger bees with the honey, there is not much point.  The real question here is, will the bees in the right demographic be attracted to Barbie?

WWBD

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No wonder Barbie has the manual dexterity to be a veterinarian or surgeon – manipulating a wide barrel curling iron to produce the requisite loose curls is not as easy as it looks, especially on the back of your head. In fact, Barbie was late for work this morning due to the extra time required for makeup and changing pantyhose after a long nail snagged the first pair. Add that to the additional time it takes to make it to the bus stop in high heels and it is clear that another half hour will be needed to accomplish the morning transformation.

The humid weather today sucked most of the spring from my artificial locks so that by the time I caught a glance of myself passing by a store window my new hair resembled an ageing 80s rock star style or a mullet gone very wrong, as if there was ever such a thing as a mullet being right. WWBD – What would Barbie do? Perhaps I should be packing hairspray and a curling iron for the office and keeping a mini-makeup kit in my desk drawer. I’ll have to consult the experts.

Meanwhile, early reactions range from the very positive (“awesome” – “my husband thinks you look hot” – “long hair is always in style”) to the very negative. My daughter glared at me in obvious disgust when she first encountered her mother’s new look; I suppose I should consider this a tribute to my attempt to raise her as a strong, independent woman, valuing her own intelligence and personality, pursuing her career goals and eschewing the herd mentality. Her scornful comment: “It’s like you’ve turned into a woman from the 1950s”.

As for the reactions of strangers, perhaps it was only my attentiveness to my fellow subway passengers, but I am certain I noticed the glances of men remain on me for just a few seconds longer than before the transformation and the veil that comes from consciously avoiding eye contact seemed to lift momentarily while a flicker of appraisal flashed over me. Women, however, retained the usual impassive public facade.

A story one of my contemporaries had told me came to mind. She said she had gone to stand outside a restaurant to have a quick smoke recently and there were two men standing nearby, also smoking and engaged in conversation, when a couple of young women came out to the smoking area. The men smiled at them and one made some innocuous remark; soon the four of them were chatting companionably.

WWBD

My friend said she was, for all intents and purposes, invisible to the group. I had noticed the same thing happening before the Barbie experiment – we had entered that no-man’s-land of women of a certain age that is literally a no-man’s-land. The evidence was starting to point to a cruel reality – women may have entered the 21st century but men are still stuck in the 1950s. Or perhaps it just boils down to the evolutionary imperative of reproductive mammals seeking out the nearest likely mate, based on broad outward signals such as red lips, swaying hips and a healthy head of hair, even if the previous owner of that hair lives half a world away.

The Barbie Massacre

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Contrary to what you might think, I previously had very ambivalent feelings toward Barbie as an icon: it was a combination of fascination with her unlimited wardrobe of pink frothy dresses and matching accessories and a politically correct disdain of her anatomically impossible standards and permanent acquiescence that she was supposedly imposing on womankind by […]

The Barbie Project begins

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It started with a frustrating work situation, was helped along by a bad haircut, and has become an experiment: the Barbie project. I work in a small office with two men and four women. For some months, I have been voicing some concerns about the increasing work load and the distribution of said work load, namely that the bulk of the increased work is falling upon my shoulders and that of my equally desperate office mate and only ally. Despite the fact that one of the women is quite incompetent at her job, thereby creating more work for the weary, and another one seems to have ample time to spend on facebook and online shopping, as well as popping out for an hour to get her nails or hair done, my attempts to communicate suggestions for change, my frustration and a lengthy business analysis of the increasing client base (complete with excel sheets and graphs) have fallen on deaf ears. Given that I haven’t recently won the lottery, I am stuck with the situation (at least temporarily). My chagrin seemed shared by the world at large, evidenced by some poignant graffiti I saw on my way to work.

“What can I be doing wrong?” I complained to my girlfriend. “It’s as if they only like submissive women.”  It came to me like a bolt from the blue: they wanted Barbie!  I laughingly said that I would try being Barbie and see how that worked.

Now, it’s not as if I am Rosie the Riveter, but my wardrobe tends toward neutral colours and sensible shoes. I decided that if I were to act like Barbie for a few days, I would need some cues to remind me of my role. The first step was to paint my newly bio-gelled nails a bright shade of pink. Wearing pink, in fact was key. And heels.

On my first pink wardrobe day I consciously modulated my voice a few tones higher and smiled a lot, finishing my sentences with the slightest bit of a question in my voice. I noted a small decrease in the level of antagonism from the men in the office and perhaps the tiniest hint of confusion at this change in attitude.

Then came the fateful bad haircut. I was trying to save some money by going to a salon school and a severly under-prepared student gave me a chop that looked like a cross between Peppermint Patty and one of the vintage Campbell’s Soup kids. I was aghast – neither my professional persona nor my Barbie image would work with that hairdo. It was a permanent bad hair day that wasn’t working for any kind of image besides prison inmate.

A girls’ night ended up with me telling of my plan and a quick makeover taking place, involving a long blonde wig and silicone breast enhancers stuffed in my bra, courtesy of the hostess. The reaction, lubricated by pink raspberry cocktails,  was very positive: “Do it!” they urged. My sister, experienced in the ways of make-up and girly clothing, offered to help me with the project. We began making plans.

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