Barbie and My Midlife Disaster

Exterior of Barbieland, a lot of our collective panic about dwindling youth and wonder stems from a tradition that glorifies being younger, whereas rendering older ladies invisible.

(Warner Bros. Footage)

After I was born, my grandmother Frances didn’t need to be referred to as grandma. It sounded too “previous.” So, we referred to as her Ma. Only a few folks knew Ma’s precise age. When requested, she would reply coyly, “21 plus.” At her 76th birthday celebration, she acquired playing cards that mentioned Glad seventieth and Glad sixty fifth. It wasn’t till she was effectively into her 80s that she began confidently sharing her age—and that was solely to brag to docs and nurses who routinely marveled how “younger she regarded.”

Not surprisingly, I inherited a little bit of alarm about ageing. This yr, I had a milestone birthday. (All you should know is that I’m 21 plus. I do know, I’m engaged on it.) Positive, age is only a quantity, however some numbers are extra important than others. And a few numbers really feel large enough to mark territory—not of who you may develop into, however of who you may not be. 

This yr has discovered me clinging to youth with extra gusto than ever. I am going dancing, braid my hair, put on bikinis and sing karaoke as loudly and as badly as any twenty-something. One time after I was all glittered as much as go dancing on a weekday carrying a see-through high, dangling earrings, black cowboy boots and tight denims, one in all my youngsters mused, “Why can’t you be like different middle-aged folks?” I shrugged, however I suppose it’s as a result of I feel you’re both younger or previous. And I do know which one I’d select.

Then I noticed Barbie.

Greta Gerwig’s movie has been labeled a feminist triumph (or failure) and a manifesto towards (or software of) company capitalism—however for me, it’s all about my midlife disaster (or “transition,” to be variety).

Ma by no means eagerly embraced getting previous. It simply occurred. I imply, what’s the opposite possibility?

Within the movie, Barbie finds herself having “irrepressible ideas of demise”—and earlier than she is aware of it, her good physique and dream world begin displaying indicators of Actual World flaws. She wakes up sluggish with dangerous breath, will get the shock of a chilly bathe, burns her waffle, swigs expired milk, and falls to the bottom as an alternative of floating out into her world as earlier than. Then, her ft fall flat, and she or he develops cellulite.

In search of a treatment, Barbie visits Bizarre Barbie. Bizarre Barbie offers Barbie a alternative—decide the excessive heel shoe and overlook this ever occurred, or decide the Birkenstock and take a journey into the Actual World to face the issue. Barbie unhesitatingly picks the excessive heel. Bizarre Barbie insists, “You need to need to know,” to which Barbie assures her she doesn’t. It seems the selection was a lie, and Bizarre Barbie admits, “There isn’t any possibility one,” Barbie responds, “That’s a bummer.” 

Ma had a prepared quip each time somebody would complain concerning the ravages of ageing. “What’s the opposite possibility?” she’d ask rhetorically. Certainly, within the Actual World, there is no such thing as a going again. You’re both getting older, otherwise you’re lifeless.

Youthful Frances Fusco, Michele Meek’s grandmother.

When Barbie arrives within the Actual World—she discovers Gloria, a Mattel worker and mom on the cusp of center age, who has taken to enjoying with Barbie. Though she is married with a tween daughter Sasha, Gloria feels “lonely,” “unhappy and peculiar.” And it’s her “messy and complex ideas” about demise and bodily disgrace which have brought on Barbie’s woes. 

Within the movie, feeling and searching “bizarre” is a recurring theme. Barbie’s journey is a quest to keep away from turning into “bizarre.” Midge, the pregnant Barbie, is discontinued as a result of she’s “too bizarre.” Gloria’s drawings of Barbie are “bizarre, darkish and loopy”—every part her daughter Sasha says Gloria pretends to not be. And when Barbie returns to Barbieland with Gloria and Sasha solely to find Ken has put in patriarchy, Barbie reaches her “lowest” level “emotionally” and “bodily” as she exclaims, “Both you’re brainwashed otherwise you’re bizarre and ugly.” Bizarre Barbie sees Barbie’s face planted on the bottom and says, “She’s not lifeless. She’s simply having an existential disaster.” 

Barbie’s disaster stems from not being “good” and as an alternative feeling “not fairly anymore” and “not good at something”—in brief, “bizarre.” Barbie despairs, “I by no means wished every part to alter,” to which Gloria responds, “Honey, that’s life. It’s all change.”

Gloria, too, is having a life disaster. She calls herself “a boring mother with a boring job and a daughter who hates me.” The 2 ladies’s journeys mirror one another, as Barbie declares to Gloria, “I’m such as you now—ugly and undesirable.” However they’re not the one ones. At one level, when Barbie complains aloud about “concern with no particular object,” a mother passing by tells her, “It’s nervousness,” which is terrible “at this age.”

Midlife has usually been deemed the unhappiest time in an individual’s life. In line with one study, ladies within the U.S. attain their low level at 40 years previous and males at 50. Surprisingly, older individuals are usually the happiest—very similar to Bizarre Barbie appears to simply accept her plight or the previous girl that Barbie stumbles upon at a bus cease solutions assuredly, “I do know it” when Barbie marvels, “You’re so lovely.” 

However I nonetheless want to determine how one crosses safely previous the despair of midlife.

Frances Fusco and granddaughter Michele Meek.

I don’t doubt that a lot of my panic about dwindling youth stems from a tradition that glorifies being younger whereas rendering older folks—significantly ladies—invisible. It’s not truthful that we stay in a tradition the place ladies can really feel their superpower is their sexual and bodily attraction. However that’s life in our Actual World. Complete industries exist for ladies to stave off or ameliorate the results of ageing—lotions, make-up, hair dye, Botox and cosmetic surgery.

And though such interventions are usually not completely for ladies, they’re predominantly so: Over 90 percent of people that get beauty procedures are ladies. 

Surprisingly, older individuals are usually the happiest. However I nonetheless want to determine how one crosses safely previous the despair of midlife.

Principally Barbie elides the grim particulars of ageing—specializing in the imprecise undeniable fact that being human is “uncomfortable” and “you then die.” However maybe the reply is that there is no such thing as a reply, as summed up by the Indigo Women’ music that refrains via the movie, “And the much less I search my supply for some definitive… nearer I’m to high-quality” or Barbie’s recommendation to Ken (who has his personal existential disaster), “Possibly all of the issues that made you you aren’t actually you.” Or perhaps it’s as pragmatic as Gloria’s suggestion for an Strange Barbie: “She simply has a flattering high and needs to get via the day feeling form of good about herself.”

Frances Fusco on her 97th birthday.

Folks usually mentioned Ma was lovely sufficient to be a film star. She wore excessive heels her whole life, and when she fell and broke her pelvis in her 70s, we tried to transform her to sneakers, nevertheless it was too late—by that time, her ft required the slope of a heel, very similar to a Barbie.

This yr, she turned 97 and once more landed in rehab after breaking 5 ribs. Visiting her there lately, I see occasional glimmers of the fireplace that so outlined her. However a lot is misplaced too. She usually can’t bear in mind names, or what occurred 10 minutes in the past, and desires a walker to get round. She continues to be herself. However she’s additionally not. She is frail. She is confused. She is previous.

I can not ask her for the solutions—she not has them. However I do. They’re simply too easy to be believed. She by no means eagerly embraced getting previous. It simply occurred. I imply, what’s the opposite possibility?

Up subsequent:

U.S. democracy is at a harmful inflection level—from the demise of abortion rights, to an absence of pay fairness and parental go away, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and assaults on trans well being. Left unchecked, these crises will result in wider gaps in political participation and illustration. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Modification, and centering the tales of these most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we’re redoubling our dedication for the subsequent 50 years. In flip, we want your assist, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll obtain the print journal together with our e-newsletters, motion alerts, and invites to Ms. Studios occasions and podcasts. We’re grateful in your loyalty and ferocity.