Showtime!

Late last year, toy giant Mattel and media behemoth Clear Channel Entertainment breathlessly announced the formation of an “acclaimed, award-winning creative team to bring ‘Barbie™ Live in Fairytopia!™’ to stages across north America.” For the first time ever (!), Barbie’s tiny, impossibly three-dimensional form (by most estimates, a 39-21-33 D-cup) will be springing to life onstage. Said Richard Dickson, senior vice president of worldwide Mattel brands, “We have truly assembled a Broadway-caliber, all-star lineup of behind-the-scenes masters that will transport audiences to the magical land of Fairytopia, where glittery fairies and magical creatures will delight hearts and create new lifelong memories for Barbie fans of all ages.” Okay, then.

Obviously, whoever is chosen for the lead role has some seriously stacked heels to fill.

For those who haven’t been sitting on their hands waiting, here’s some background: The hour-long production is based on the straight-to-DVD movie Barbie Fairytopia, in which Elina (played by Barbie) lives inside a Peony as a wingless fairy in a lush and magical land. Elina wakes up one morning to find that her home’s petals have yellowed and the formerly flighty fairies of Fairytopia are no longer airborne. The source of this calamity? A horrible potion created by the evil Laverna and dropped over the land like napalm by gigantic birds.

What’s the flightless Elina to do? She has no wings. And yet, since the other fairies are now grounded and are “not used to walking,” she is the only one who can save them.

At this point, those of us who grew up in the 1970s with Malibu Barbie can’t help but ask, What about the impossible arch of her foot, which precludes any real physical activity? And how far can any respectable fairy lug those gigantic hooters? Finally, who on earth could play such a role? And won’t she tip over?

The logical casting choice is, of course, Pamela Anderson. But before an open casting call in December (which was televised on Good Morning America), director Eric Schaeffer announced, “The actress that we end up casting in the role of Elina must have tremendous singing and dancing skills, as well as strong athletic capabilities. Barbie Live in Fairytopia will tour eighty cities and is an elaborate stage production that includes a number of special effects—including flying.” Schaeffer also offered this further elaboration: “The actress we cast needs to have the sparkle and charisma necessary to act as the world’s most famous fashion doll in our production.”

While it’s true that a Barbie doll is purchased somewhere on the planet every three seconds, my memories of Barbie do not include any awed notions regarding her charisma. Rather, I remember trying to pound her breasts flat, swishing her around in the bathtub, and shooting her down the stairs. And I’ve discovered that my abusive relationship with Barbie was not unique.

According to the Mattel website, Barbie creator Ruth Handler believed that “little girls needed … a doll that would inspire them to think about what they wanted to be when they grew up.” And thus we’ve had astronaut Barbie, Barbie for President, Dr. Barbie, and Hard Rock Café Barbie. But a 2004 study by two professors from Western Connecticut State University revealed that though girls do participate in imaginative, role-model type play with their Barbies (playing house, sending them off to work), they more commonly engage in something called “torture play,” and this occurs almost exclusively with their Barbie dolls. One sixth-grade girl recalled, “I stripped [my Barbies] and threw them in the snow. When it became spring and they all thawed, I picked them up and my brother and my sister and I, because they didn’t like Barbie either, took my mom’s [chicken] bones scissors … and so we cut them in half.” The researchers noted that while the girls thought torture play with Barbie was “humorous,” they also offered a rationale for their abuse: According to “the overall consensus among the girls,” Barbie was punished “‘because she is the only one that looks perfect.’” In fact, Barbie has been “resculpted” several times since her invention to accommodate complaints about the unreasonable expectations she creates for girls. Her new, sleeker form features reduced breasts and a thicker waist. (And it’s worth noting that in the Fairytopia movie, she seems to be a humble size C and is sporting a mere one- or two-inch wedge, more sensible for running through the magic meadow.)

But given such hostility toward impossible perfection, wouldn’t it make sense to create a few dolls that live less in a fantastical land and more in the realm of reality? I asked a group of thirty-something women what they would suggest, now that they’ve come of age, for a more realistic role model:

“How about,” suggested Michelle, “burnt-out middle-aged teacher Barbie with a Caesarian scar? How about a Subaru with dog-hair Barbie accessory? Or a Barbie outfit: Mom jeans and holiday vest.”

Dawn, a freelance photographer who is seven months pregnant, suggested Moody and Bloated Barbie, Do I Have to Get Out of Bed? Barbie, and I Can’t Zip Up My Pants Barbie.

Melanie envisioned a Condo Barbie: “She doesn’t have a big yard, or a dog, but has a place that’s her own. There is a good opportunity to add other dolls, like a neighbor friend, and the creepy neighbor who hits on her, and then maybe even a whole redneck family that lives in an adjacent house and shoots off illegal fireworks in the middle of the night, complete with big howling coon dog.”

Barbie Live in Fairytopia is set to open in April on a stage in Ohio (performances in the Twin Cities are not yet scheduled), but producers say they won’t announce who’ll play the charismatic lead until mid- to late February.

Maybe they’re having trouble finding a real-life Barbie.—Shannon Olson