I was 8 years old when I first met Barbie, and I wanted a life just like hers. She had a boyfriend, Ken; a best friend, Midge; and a lot of clothes.
From Barbie, I learned a sartorial approach to existence: You need only to have the right outfit, and the life to go with it will appear. Buy a poofy dress and you get a date for the prom; plan a trousseau and marriage will follow; buy the right suit and a career would materialize. But today, Barbie turns 50, and I don't think she's prepared. Most women know that a closet full of cute outfits - or even a dream house - isn't enough for this time of life. So here's what I'd offer her at the half-century mark.
The first thing she needs is a new best friend. In the 1960s, Midge was the perfect friend for a pretty girl: friendly, loyal, and slightly less attractive. Barbie now needs friends with flesh on their hips and shoulders she can cry on. In our 50s, we cry for each other, pray for each other and show up when the bad stuff happens.
This leads to another essential for "Midlife Barbie." Mattel could offer "Barbie's 12-Step Program." Every woman could use a support group. But which program for Barbie? Clearly, she has a compulsive shopping problem. But it's also possible that Overeaters Anonymous would be her group. (They take undereaters as well as overeaters.)
Maybe AA? I've never seen Barbie drunk, but she does have a lot of cocktail dresses. Al-Anon might help too. Barbie could never settle on a career. She's tried to be so many different things at the same time; she's like a chameleon on plaid. Al-Anon's focus on saying no and setting limits could help with that.
This package could come with accessories like a tiny coffee pot and 10 folding chairs. Barbie will fit in easily at 12-step meetings; she never uses her last name anyway.
It's important to note that even though dating was Barbie's main preoccupation, she's always had a job. She was a teacher, a doctor, an astronaut, even a missionary - although, like most women I know, Barbie is still trying to decide what to be when she grows up.
But at this important birthday, I have to tell Barbie that there is another kind of work coming her way. In her 50s, it's time for community service. At this age, it's no longer about adding to the resume. And she won't need new clothes; there is no "Barbie's Day at the Food Pantry" ensemble. Service looks and feels good all by itself.
What else goes into my tribute to Barbie? I'd thank her for her fashion guidance. Barbie taught me about matching purses and shoes - even if the shoes were kind of slutty. But I've learned something of my own about putting yourself together after 50: Barb, the good stuff is not in your closet. At our age, it's the heartbreaks and the losses and the mistakes that make you an original. I'm not talking about any pastel faux pas here; I'm talking horrid, messy, head-shaking mistakes. Those, when worn with a little self-forgiveness and a lot of gratitude, are what become the finest accessories for a woman in her 50s.
Granted, this may be asking a lot of a former fashion doll. But Barbie has hung in there for 50 years. She has knees that bend now. And she'll need them. It isn't easy being plastic.
Diane Cameron, a writer and teacher in Albany, N.Y., is author of the blog WomeninRecovery@blogspot.com.