Guest columnist Mariel E. Addis: From the Barbie files 


Published: 08-10-2023 2:18 PM

It is hard to believe, but I think my initiation into “femaledom” is finally complete. On what must have been its fourth day in theaters, I went to see the new Barbie movie.

A long-time female friend of mine organized the outing, and I went to the film with 10 other women all right around my age. I knew it was a big deal, so I wore a long, bright pink sleeveless dress, put my hair into a high ponytail, and made sure my makeup was just right. I didn’t want to let Barbie down. After all, she sets such a high standard of style.

It may be surprising after reading my previous essays, that, growing up, I could care less about owning a Barbie. Despite being born male, and realizing about 7 years old that I had this desire to be female, I had no use for Barbie back then. How could the girls I knew be so taken with her? At age seven, I was idolizing Marlo Thomas as “That Girl,” who, in a lot of ways, was like a dark-haired, human version of Barbie. The big difference was that she was real (Marlo, that is), not plastic, and I both wanted to be her and had a crush on her all at the same time.

I remember being horrified at how many of the girls I knew treated their Barbies, stripping them naked, cutting their hair, and twisting their body parts to all kinds of weird angles. Plus, I really would rather play with my stuffed animals, Legos, and Matchbox cars; they somehow still seemed compatible with wanting to be “That Girl.” Sadly, the harsh reminder came that as a boy, I shouldn’t be that into Ann Marie, the name of Marlo’s character on the show.

Later, I wanted to be Jan Brady. I preferred Jan because Marcia, while probably prettier, was just too mean and conceited. Then it was Jaclyn Smith of “Charlie’s Angels.” I am sure that you, the reader, are seeing a trend here. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of my male peers weren’t feeling like I was. But all that is water under the bridge and I finally crossed to what is for me, my proper side gender-wise.

Now, back to Barbie ...

Initially, I really did not want to see the Barbie movie as it looked dumb and aimed at kids — and then I got the invite from my friend. In the final analysis, I loved the movie, loved the messages it conveyed regarding how hard it is to be a woman. In fact, I even teared up at parts of the movie, especially as I thought of my mom, who passed eight years before I transitioned to female. (Note: It’s frequently hard to be a man, too — been there, done that.)

As a woman, I feel this pressure to be perfect in my appearance, upholding this unrealistic standard, to be some kind of “uber-woman.” This is a pressure I never felt in my male life. I didn’t want to look like a slob, but I felt my appearance didn’t matter as much. In my heart, I know this female need to look perfect is a crock, but somehow, I can’t shake it. I want to do this new-to-me woman thing right, although I know in my heart there is far more to being a woman than perfect hair or flawless makeup. Still, the inherent and totally unnecessary insecurity involved with being a woman follows me everyday because I stupidly allow it to. Couple that with the fact that I am a transgender woman, and want to be “seen” as a woman like any other woman. My brother keyed into my insecurities and made a comment to me about them at dinner last week.

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A little background here, my younger brother, my only sibling, has been with me through my transition from male to female. He is one of my best friends and has supported me in ways that I’m not sure a lot of other brothers would do, even as his brother became his sister. My brother was telling me not to worry that not everyone in the larger, and sometimes narrow-minded world sees me as female, because the people I hold most near and dear to me do. They get it, they’ve seen me blossom into someone who is finally happy — and living my best life.

None of of us live in Barbieland, we live in the real world. Few of us live in what we’d call our dreamhouse, drive a pink Corvette, or are qualified for any job we want to dabble in, from model to doctor. We didn’t come out of a mold, aren’t plastic, and that’s a great thing.

Mariel Addis is a native of Florence. She left the area for 16 years but returned in 2013.