The princess swung out across the ballroom in the arms of her beloved. Her long golden hair trailed behind her graceful curves and the chandelier light glimmered in Her wide violet eyes. Her dress was a dream of pink chiffon and sequences, as girlish and exquisite as She was. She knew every eye in the room was on Her; after all, no one else counted like She did. She was the most radiant girl in all the world, and Her world was as perfect, as beautiful and romantic, as She deserved.
She reached up and let one tiny, long-fingered hand caress the face of Her beloved. "Do you love me?" She whispered, confident of the answer.
It came back to Her, soft and tender. "Te amo, mi dulce angel."
The princess smiled sweetly, but doubt was insinuating itself into a heart unused to any kind of uncertainty.
"I didn't know you spoke Spanish, Ken."
As She spoke, the ballroom broke into rainbow swirls, which resolved into daylight shining through her eyelids. Barbie awoke to reality.
Ken didn't speak a word of Spanish. The only person Barbie knew who spoke Spanish, except for her multilingual self, of course, was… Teresa.
"Why now?" Barbie murmured to herself, rubbing the sleep out of her fine-lashed eyes (currently emerald green.) That very evening, after Barbie had attended the World Congress on Children's Rights, her friends were throwing her a party to celebrate her 40th anniversary as Ken's steady girlfriend. It was not a particularly good time to begin dreaming about her female friends.
And it wasn't only Theresa. Just last night Barbie had dreamed that she and Kira were, for some reason, mermaids, frolicking together in the ocean… She blushed to remember it. And the night before that, she and P.J. had apparently met in their dreams for, well, a pyjama party. Barbie had even started dreaming about someone called Betsy, who she was almost sure she had never met. Something about her toothy grin and sweet but gormless expression seemed oddly familiar, though… (1)
She'd even dreamed of Twiggy, and she was vaguely irritated about this. If she was going to dream of girls, she would prefer it if they weren't skinnier than Skipper.
Barbie gave an uncharacteristic sigh, and cast her eyes on her bedside photo of Ken in his heart-shaped frame. She had to forget these dreams. She was almost sure they were inappropriate fantasies for an Inspiring Role Model.
Besides, she was almost sure that this was going to be… the night.
Barbie rose and went over to one of the many thousands of wardrobes that lined the Dream House. This one was… special. Secret, and very very special.
The blonde flung open the doors, and let her eyes linger on the hundreds of white dresses hanging there, dating from the very first time she had donned stiff lace and satin, as an innocent Teenaged Fashion Model in the early sixties. She trailed her hands down the rows, her touch passing over lost and dead bridal fantasies as she slowly walked from one end of the wardrobe to the other. She would admit to no one that she compulsively bought these dresses. Somehow, Barbie was never so much Herself as when she wore white. Except, of course, when she wore pink.
The dresses ranged from cheap sateen sheaths to the black-trimmed elegance of the custom-designed Vera Wang bridal gown, and the crystal-hung splendour of the Millennium Bride Wedding Dress.
But the Millennium had passed, and Barbie still only had Fantasy Weddings.
She sighed, closing the door, and turned to the business of the day, tying her silky hair up with a scarlet ribbon. Barbie knew something was very odd about her life. As she climbed into her yellow vinyl fire-fighter's overall and whistled to her trusty Dalmatian, she wondered vaguely what it was.
But there was no time for moping. Barbie had fires to fight.
* * *
The party room was decked out in dazzling hot pink and disco lights, a banner pronouncing "Happy Anniversary Barbie and Ken!" hanging from the spiral staircase. A perfect party for the perfect couple.
But the man of the hour was late.
Barbie kept her glowing smile pasted on her flawlessly painted face, and wordlessly accepted a glass of non-alcoholic wine from the solicitous Skipper. She couldn't help being aware that the party was both female-dominated and rather different than the friends that would have attended when she and Ken were first dating, or even from a couple of decades ago. Kelley had disappeared into the wilds of Yellowstone, and Diva and Bopsy had disappeared along with their rock star careers. Even her beloved Mod cousin had fallen by the wayside. Francie's one attempt to remain by Barbie's side by seriously deepening her tan had been a crashing failure.(2) Even Barbie's little twin brother and sister were disturbing absent – whatever had happened to them? There was Kelly of course, who sometimes called herself Shelley, and Stacey, and Ashley, but she was sure there had been some twins as well, at some point. Where had they gone?
She couldn't give up Ken. He had been with her all along – well, except for a few years back there, but she could forget and forgive that now. He was her one precious link to her past.
But Barbie was happier than ever, she told herself firmly. After all, her friends were better now – satisfyingly multi-ethnic these days, even if no one had ever been able to discover which part of "Asia" Kira claimed to hail from. Her circle of friends was no longer muti-abled, though. Becky had pushed her own wheelchair off into the sunset some time after the last Paralympics. (3)
"I'm sorry, Barbie," she had tearfully confided. "I just can't cope with the pressure anymore."
"But – Becky!" Barbie had pleaded. "Don't you know it is your job to be an inspiration to differently-abled little girls everywhere? Just as it's my job to be an inspiration to little girls who are, um… same-abled…" Her sentence trailed off into embarrassment. "And little girls in wheelchairs too, of course." She was dimly aware she was losing her air of assured Inspiration ™ herself.
"Oh, Barbie, I just can't do it anymore!" Becky had sobbed. "How do you cope with being responsible for the dreams of all little girls everywhere? Sometimes I just don't feel like Sharing a Smile, you know what I mean?" She took in Barbie's bewildered expression. "No, I guess you don't…. Oh, it's okay, Barbie. I still love you, and I always will. I'll always be a Friend of Barbie, you know…"
Barbie had never seen her again.
She sighed wistfully, breaking from the past and reassuming her usual bright, sweet smile. She had to remain cheerful and perky. It was expected of her. Besides, her hot pink and silver lame miniskirt set with maribu accessories was an absolute dream.
She turned, hopefully, as the door opened. Maybe this was Ken at last.
"Hi, Barbie!" cried Christie.
"Hola, Barbie!" Theresa smiled. Barbie remembered her dream, and blushed.
"G'day, Babs," Tori chimed in, finishing off the suitably multinational stream of greetings. "Where's the beer? Maaaaaaaate," she added conscientiously.
"I don't approve of artificial stimulants, Victoria darling," Barbie reprieved the pigtailed girl, gently. "And I know you…" her American accent struggled with the word for a moment, and settled on something like 'Orssies,' "… are sporty and dashing by nature, but do you mind not wearing your rollerblades inside the house?"
"No worries," Tori replied, cheerfully but incomprehensibly. Barbie gave up. Sometimes being a Generation Girl was more effort than it was worth. Besides, Skipper had already pounced on Tori, glad to find someone ready to party. Barbie smiled indulgently. Teenagers… But Tori was Barbie's own contemporary, wasn't she? She dismissed the thought. Thinking too hard about her own age always gave Barbie a headache. Although at least it was easier than thinking about Skipper's age… It always slightly bothered Barbie that she had a sister whose breasts popped in and out when she revolved her left arm. (4)
Always the good hostess, the pink princess turned to the girl behind the miniskirted Australian babe - and remembered that Ken wasn't her oldest friend, by any means.
"Hello, Barbie," the flame-haired girl said, her voice as melodious and soft as always.
"Oh – hi, Midge," the Princess replied softly. "Hi, Lorena!" she added, smiling at the little girl holding her older sister's hand. "Kelly's upstairs, if you want to go and play with her." The adorable child lifted up her freckled face to be kissed, then skipped away, leaving the older girls alone.
Midge's presence always confused Barbie. At the beginning she had always been there, a freckled, cheerfully ugly blonde, always ready to cheer Barbie on and hold her hand, sweet and unthreatening. Then she had disappeared, for years and years, and when she had returned at last, she was… different. Midge was now a spectacularly beautiful redhead, still freckled, snub-nosed and wide-eyed but truly gorgeous, her gawky past forgotten. Barbie had felt rather shy with her old friend ever since. It was disconcerting, to find that your dorky shadow was suddenly almost as glamorous as you were.
Ever since then, Midge had kind of lurked around on the periphery of Barbie's Friends, usually overshadowed by Teresa. Barbie was dimly conscious that there was a bitter rivalry between the redhead and the Latina beauty that had almost eclipsed her position as Barbie's Official Best Friend. But how was Barbie to help it? She had a duty to show that all girls, not just Caucasian Americans, were welcome in the Pink World.
Midge had still chosen Barbie as her maid of honour, though. Barbie wondered if she should ask her oldest friend for some tips. She, after all, didn't spend all her weddings alone at the altar… (5)
"How's Allan?" Barbie asked, politely. "I haven't seen him around for a while. Not since the rumour that you were having twins."
Midge frowned a little, her full lips pouting lusciously. But at that point, Ken finally walked in. Barbie wondered for a moment why her boyfriend was looking so shame-faced, until she noticed that he was with Blaine, who was blushing under his tan. Barbie's stunned gaze dropped to the men's linked hands.
Tori, who was impervious to subtleties, flung herself on the pair, wrapping her arms around the handsome blond. "Blaine!" she squealed happily. "Maaaaaaaaate…. My favourite Generation Sheila!"(6)
"Tori, you bimbo Skip, he's a boy," someone hissed. Probably Kira, from the way her accent wandered up and down the Asian subcontinent.
"But you're still a Generation Girl, aren't ya, Blaine?" Tori bounced happily, pink-streaked ponytails flying.
"Apparently," the same voice said, somewhat coldly.
Barbie, her smile unwavering, met Ken's pleading gaze. Then, still smiling, she turned and ran from the room.
"I always knew Ken was gay!" growled Tori, pigtails snapping. "Ever since Mr. Rainbow Prince started wearing that lavender fishnet vest and the cock ring."
"It was a pendant!" Christie protested weakly. (7) "Besides, that was before your time."
The core group of Barbie's most famous friends, plus Tori (because every situation needs a straight-talking Australian), looked helplessly back at her. They had assembled to discuss the problem, but it wasn't working. The words "problem" and "Barbie" simply didn't fit well together.
Skipper was sobbing helplessly in Teresa's lap. "I'll never be Barbie's bridesmaid noooooooooooowww…"
"Sshh, chiquita. There is still hope." The dark-eyed girl stroked the teenager's hair soothingly. She glanced across at Midge, their usual rivalry dissolved in the need to help their mutual Best Friend. "The important thing now is to help your sister feel better. And we can do it… Girls Can Do Anything, Right, Barbie?" she finished brightly.
The girls nodded bravely, repeating the mantra.
Christie turned to the Australian Baby Spice look-alike. "Tori, do you know anything that might help us? After all, you go to the International High School with her… Right before she attends Surgery and the Space Programme, and puts her sisters to bed." Her pretty face convulsed with the agony of trying to fit the pieces of Barbie's lifestyle. "Come to think of it, maybe she has been overextending herself lately..."
Skipper nodded, tearfully. "It's so hard being fabulous. It's not easy being President of the United States while running a nursery school - and still finding time to design breathtaking fashions. And Stacey and Kelly have been so demanding since Krissy was born. I think they've been suffering from middle child syndrome." She pouted a little. "That used to be my deal."
Theresa's brow creased. "Skipper, do you not think your parents could help out with your little sisters more often?"
The blonde teen looked blankly back at her. "We have parents?"
"You know," Tori cut in, before the others could spend too much thought on the question of where Krissy had come from, "I don't think Barbie is necessarily as heartbroken as we think. I mean, guess who she went to the last Prom with?"
"Ken, of course. As always," Kira said impatiently, a little worried that she was being left out of the conversation and might be discontinued if she didn't put a word in.
"Nope." Tori beamed at them all. "You'll never guess… Nichelle!" (8)
"Nichelle? Who is Nichelle?" demanded Skipper.
"Barbie's beautiful, intelligent and female African-American friend," Tori explained.
"Isn't that me?" Christie wondered aloud. She looked rather worried.
Tori snickered. "I think you're being phased out, Chris. It's your complete lack of personality that's doing you in. Your days were numbered from the day Barbie learned to change races and ethnicities at will – how exactly does she do that, anyway?"
In the ensuing discussion, no one realised that Midge had quietly crept from the room.
* * *
Barbie wasn't crying. In more than four decades, Midge had never known her gorgeous friend to shed a tear. But she was lying very still on the pink-coverlet waterbed she had been given as a gift from Jem, just before the Diva had given up the unequal struggle and retired. There was a rumour that it turned into a gigantic keyboard..
"Um, Barbie?" she asked, shyly.
The blonde girl rolled over, and at the agonised look in her eyes, Midge held out her arms. Barbie flung herself into at her, and the redhead held her very tight, crooning wordlessly. It seemed to help.
"My entire life has been a lie," Barbie managed to say, eventually.
"No… don't say that, honey. You're an Inspiration."
"Yes… I inspire little girls to grow up to be heterosexual consumerist anorexic housewives with plastic breasts and skin cancer. Don't think I don't hear what people say about me."
"Maybe not so heterosexual anymore," Midge muttered, then hated herself for it. She tried to make it up. "Anyway, sweetie, you can't help being beautiful. And where does the housewife bit come from? You have more careers than anyone I've ever known."
"Because I always dream of getting married?"
"Oh, Barbie. You just want to be loved…" She stroked golden hair. "Why isn't the love of millions of little girls enough for you?" she asked, seriously. "Why do you need the love of a… nobody… like Ken?"
"Ken's not a nobody! He's handsome… decent…"
"..has no personality except reflected glory as your boyfriend."
"That's not true!" Barbie thought about it for a moment. "Well, maybe it is… Do you think that's why he left me? He needs to define his own true self?"
"It's possible," said Midge, lying through her teeth. She'd been pretty sure about Ken for years. And Blaine was awfully good looking… Instead of worrying about it, she looked at the vision of perfection in her arms. "Why would anyone leave you?" she wondered to herself.
"You did." The answer was as quick and bitter as it was unexpected.
The blonde pulled away and flung herself back on the bed. "Everyone leaves… all my friends… but none hurt as much as you. Even Ken…"
"Why? Was it my fault? I know I overshadowed you."
Midge stared down at her, and settled for the truth. " I didn't think you'd notice I was gone."
"Well, did you?" Midge began to sniffle. "Even after I came back… I thought if I fixed myself up, if I was more glamorous, you'd notice me more. But you already had Christie and Teresa by then, you didn't need me. You never even asked me to join Beyond Pink. I just wasn't sexy enough, still…"
"We only had one album!" Barbie cried. "Oh, Midge… I'm sorry… But you had Allan."
"Yes.. sort of…" Midge ran her hands through her glowing copper hair. "But not anymore. And I didn't love him like I love you."
It had slipped out, and she bit her lip too late. Barbie was already sitting up again, staring at her. "You love me?" Barbie clasped her friends. "Because you're a Friend of Barbie, or because –"
"I'm n love with you." Midge stared at her hands. "How could I not be? You're… perfect. You're the definition of perfection. That's why so many people hate you."
"You don't hate me, do you, Midge?" For an intelligent woman, Barbie could sometimes be rather dim.
"Barbie – I – " And the blonde princess was in her arms, and Midge was kissing her like she had always dreamed, except sweet and softer and more… Barbie.
"I love you," she said, softly, as their lips parted at last.
Barbie stared into jade-green eyes, remembering. Dorky freckled Midge, quiet and sweet and amazingly loyal… content to be shoved into the background by Ken or Francie, but always there. So different to this gravely elegant woman. But then again, maybe not… Midge had always been reserved. And the sweetness about her eyes had always been there, too… And the love.
"I love you too, Midge," she said, her voice quiet with the wonder of it, and pain for the years Midge had suffered. This would take some getting used to… But all the uncertainty she had felt about Ken, for the last forty years, was fading. Her best friend was different… surely a more worthy companion to Save the World beside. And Kens' dress sense had always been scary. "I always did, I just didn't realise what it meant. I just never saw it as a possibility… I guess I was just… fixated on weddings," she admitted.
Midge kissed her again, harder. "You can still have a wedding," she promised. "My Barbie.."
Barbie smiled, her pretty face lighting up. "After all, two brides are better than one." She snuggled into Midge's arms.
Midge kissed her golden hair. "Of course. Every little girl playing dolls knows that."