A world where having a Headless Barbie is OK!

I have a confession to make. One which is potentially more embarrassing than Noreabanging (Korean karaoke) at 9am on a Monday or that I am currently writing this sitting in Starbucks wearing red knee-high rain boots and silently bopping away to the Pet Shop Boys classic 1987 hit “What Have I Done To Deserve This.” (So good. Listen to it now and it will change your world for the better. Just like it did for me when I was at the Grade 5 end of year party, proudly wearing my handmade pink knitted jumper and tight acid wash blue jeans (somewhat surprising how my wardrobe has not changed a great deal in the intervening almost 30 years)). Today’s confession could be construed as a call for help but there is no need to be alarmed about my well-being. I think that the thing I will now confess to has come about because I am so very used to walking around the streets, shopping or sitting in Starbucks dancing to the Pet Shop Boys with no-one paying any attention to me. Not that I am saying that I am usually noticed walking down the street (or anywhere for that matter). It is more that because, where I used to live, the neighbourhood is relatively small so you are pretty much guaranteed to bump into someone you know somewhere along the way between home, school drop off, work, supermarket, school pick up and home. (You are pretty much guaranteed to see someone you know at home unless you walk around with a towel over your head pretending that you are not there (which I highly recommend doing for some of the time of the ludicrously long almost ten week school holidays). Here (Seoul, South Korea), however, I can easily spend my day seeing nobody that may know me. This fact has, apparently, caused me some distress. Because I have taken to carrying around a companion in my backpack. Her name is Headless Barbie.

I am not entirely sure what started our friendship. It could have been because my (lovely) children can be quick to throw away their stuff when their stuff breaks. (This comment is excluding the youngest one who is a hoarder, spending her (long) holiday collecting leaves, twigs, half eaten almonds and scraps of soap, storing them in specially marked boxes for when they might next come in handy. Best to not attempt to thrown any of this out. It will not end well.) The older two, however, seem to think that when things break — as in when you deliberately and methodically pull apart your Barbie — you should just throw it away. This bothers me. I feel sad for the Barbie, for the kids who don’t have Barbies (not exactly sad about the lack of Barbies per se but about all the other toys that the Barbie represents) and for the amount of plastic rubbish that we are adding to (imagine an ocean full of headless, legless Barbies and you will also feel sad and slightly distressed).

I don’t really remember playing with Barbies before now. I certainly never spent hours with them as my middle child does. She will bring them out to play on her bed, making them talk, dance, visit a hairdresser (an activity which results in bits of Barbie’s hair being found all over the house and then needs many chats about why it is that Barbie’s hair does not grow back. Ever.). Youngest child will often join in with middle child and and there will be a few minutes of lovely, happy, TV advertisement worthy play. Until disaster strikes and one loses its dress, one dress becomes ripped, arm falls off and/or, in a disaster of epic proportions of disasters, the head gets ripped off! (I am not sure what game they were playing here but Ken might have some explaining to do or my children might need therapy earlier than expected). Point here is that Barbie’s head became dislodged and, quite quickly after, I discovered newly Headless Barbie in the bathroom’s trash can.

“Not so soon!”, I cried, coming to Headless Barbie’s rescue. I was determined to convince my children that Headless Barbie, wearing a slightly ripped, blue biro scribbled, shoulderless pink ballgown, still had so much to give (that and there was no way I was going to be hit up for buying another). So, somehow, instead of the trash can, Headless Barbie ended up disappearing into my backpack. I am not sure how she got in there or who put her in but in there she went and maybe she would have stayed there until my six monthly backpack clean out occurred but for a really long and boring drive to Costco.

Thanks to a husband who has passed on his ridiculously fast metabolism to my children, I am forced to deal with three kids who eat all day long. This means frequent trips to Costco, much more than I would like (which, btw, is never) and, therefore, being stuck in what seems like endless traffic, where I mostly imagine myself living a fabulous life alone in a loft apartment in Soho. On one such Costco occasion, as I was rifling through my backpack to find something to eat that had not become infested with salmonella, I found Headless Barbie. It turns out you can interact effectively without a head. You can also dance very well without a head, an important skill to have when sitting still for a very, very, very, very long time in Seoul traffic.

Headless Barbie soon started to, deliberately, accompany me to many places: chicken shopping; shoe shopping; noreabanging (watch out — she hogs the microphone); the beauty salon, bibimbap eating, elephant riding. Coffee dates became frequent. (Importantly, she liked having coffee.) I liked having coffee with her. (Although sometimes she liked to be alone or just with her other Barbie friends. That was OK. I understood. It was nice for her, even if they all had heads).

(As a consequence, my Instagram feed has been somewhat hijacked by Headless Barbie pictures).

But being a Headless Barbie in this world is not exactly easy. Yes, you can get squashed by ridiculously large watermelons.

But, more than that, it seems that this is a world where Headless Barbie(s) are all too quickly discarded. While she is at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to things like the Hello Smile Campaign, she has so many other attributes. Example? You can dance really well without a head.

When Headless Barbie and I first became friends, I was slightly concerned about the lack of interest in her. Nobody noticed or stopped her entering a building site. No-one thought it weird that she was making a phone call to a friend to tell them about Wall Man who had just proposed to her (she said no, but, very politely, thanked him for the offer)) and it seemed perfectly OK that she take an escalator at Seoul Station.

Because of this, I thought it would be great idea to raise awareness, or, at the very least, ease potential awkwardness regarding all of the many things that any Headless Barbie has to offer. My campaign started with my middle child’s classmates, who embraced the daily updates of Headless Barbie’s activities; a few YouTube videos; and several (thousand) Instagram postings. Most recently, I took to the streets, literally, by randomly posting stickers of Headless Barbie around Seoul with statements such as: “She’s still OK with no head” and “Heads are overrated anyway.” I like to think that this has helped potentially hundreds, if not thousands of Headless Barbies out there from prematurely ending up in the trash (substitute Headless Barbie for ripped soft toy, broken wheel car, missing puzzle piece and you see my point).

However, now that I feel the campaign is coming to a close (“Yay” says Husband), on reflection (I am currently reading about mindfulness) I think that I have learnt a lot more than what I set out to teach. Saving Headless Barbie began with the premise to teach my children to not be so hasty to throw out their Headless Barbies (or Headless Barbies equivalents), but, in what has been the most interesting outcome of my friendship with Headless Barbie, I have come to discover that I am living in a place where I am completely free to pursue my fascination. I have never been stopped. I have never been asked what I am doing. I have never had anyone surreptitiously take a picture of me taking a picture of Headless Barbie (not that I know of anyway). The tolerance and tacit acceptance for a woman pulling a Headless Barbie in and out of her backpack, setting her up for shots (achieving perfect arm postures has been the most challenging part of the picture in case you were wondering) and even, conspicuously, completing outfit changes (the outfits of Headless Barbie that is, not mine), has been nothing short of phenomenally bizarre. I love it. This is what we should be able to do anywhere! So the revised lesson for my kids is yes, of course do not unnecessarily discard, but also always, always strive to be a person in a place that lets others walk around with their Headless Barbies. Take your Headless Barbie with you and let everyone else take theirs.

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