CW: Potential Barbie (2023) spoilers, Brief Suicide Attempt Ment (Not Graphic)
Last Halloween, my most recent ex and I dressed up as Barbie and Ken. We’d only been dating for about a year and a half at that point, and call me delusional but I had really thought that we were going to make it as a couple. When we first met, I was easily at the lowest point in my life I’ve ever been thus far. I was still recovering from the effects and memories of a recent suicide attempt in the middle of a global pandemic. I was attending the only college that I could afford, still living with my parents, and studying something I hated. I saw nothing good or worthy about myself, and as far as I was concerned, I was still alive and living life against my will. And yet my ex looked at me and said that she developed a crush on me the first time we spoke over the phone even though she had no idea what I looked like at the time.
She told me that she had a mini heart attack the first time that she saw what I looked like. At this point in life I was obsessed with becoming conventionally pretty, but simultaneously knowing that I’d never be seen as conventionally pretty because I’m brown. Growing up in a primarily white area, I was made to feel “other” basically my entire life. I had a few brief relationships while in high school, where I was always seen as the “masculine” one in the relationship. It made me feel more masculine than I actually am as a person. I’ve never had a strong internal sense of self, so I just always assumed that I was whatever other people perceived me as. I didn’t like who I was or what I looked like. But here my ex was telling me that she tried to go on dates with other people to get her mind off of me. And you know what? I liked her too. She was the reason why I realized that I was attracted to butches and mascs after deluding myself into believing that I wasn’t.
We saw ourselves in Barbie and Ken. I was the princess that made demands and called the shots, and she was the dopey grubby rapscallion that begrudging went along with my schemes because she thought I was pretty. It started when she’d call me “Barbie” because of my affinity for pink, frills, and all of my various hobbies. According to her, I was always up to something and she was just happy to support all I do. Our costumes were literally made out of pieces in our closets, and we both somehow managed to wear corduroy on Halloween. It felt like we were always somehow opposites but complementary.
She saw masterpieces in me where I saw empty hallways. She saw me the way I wanted so badly to be seen by the world. Pretty, kind, and talented in so many different ways. Something that I really struggled with until more recently is allowing myself to be a multi dimensional person beyond how I was perceived by other people. I didn’t know who I was, so I allowed other people to define me. She was just the first person to define me the way that I wanted to be.
When she broke up with me, it was around our two year anniversary. She had been ignoring me for about a week straight before that. As happy as I found our relationship to be, it was ultimately inevitable. She was a lovely person, but ultimately incredibly unavailable. With everything she’d done for me in my eyes I was willing to be patient with her as she learned to express herself better. I believed she’d given me the ultimate gift of being seen for who I wanted to be seen as. I’d been everything in front of her: uncouth, angry, a mess: and she still saw me as her Barbie. But ultimately, she was the one who decided that she couldn’t be in a relationship anymore. She said she wanted to be less emotionally constipated, but where she was in life with finally digesting events from her childhood she just couldn’t be.
I felt an incredible sense of loss because I felt like I was losing the only person to see me the way I wanted to be seen. One of the hardest things about losing someone in your life is losing the version of yourself that you are with them, or the version of yourself that only they know. What happens to the memories that only we had that nobody else will ever know or understand? My ex has seen me at so many different stages of my life whether or not she realizes it. She has seen me as so many different versions of myself that nobody in my life right now would understand. Nobody in my life has ever known me so deeply. It was so scary to know that I was going to lose that. It weirdly felt like I was losing a part of myself. I’d been conditioned as a brown femme that my dating pool was small and that if I wanted a partner I had to settle, so the loss felt magnified. I felt like I was never going to find love like this again. And as corny as it sounds, where does all the love…go? All of the inside jokes, all the memories…where does it all go when you don’t talk to each other anymore?
I’ve been doing okay for the past few months, but something in the Barbie movie really stuck with me. I have a lot of criticisms of the movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s far from being a perfect movie. But it made me realize that I have an identity outside of how other people perceive me. Ken is still Ken regardless of whether Barbie acknowledges him that day or not. Barbie is Barbie because that’s just who she is. I’m still me regardless of if there’s someone out there that I believe sees my entirety. It’s an incredibly surface level movie, yet somehow this message wouldn’t have been as strong to me if it hadn’t been told through the characters of my childhood dolls. For this reason, I’ll always be a vehement defender of the Barbie movie, regardless of what conservatives have to say about it. I am still how I see myself regardless of what labels the world wants to put on me. I am everything I want to be: a scientist, an artist, a game dev, an immigration advocate. On top of that I’m kind, caring, and down to Earth. I am completely whole on my own and have always known this, but these days I actually feel it.