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I used to play with Barbies a lot when I was little. No wonder I wanted to be blonde.
I smiled at my reflection. Not because of my morena skin. Not because of my brown eyes, or even because I was looking at the face of a child with a life of opportunity ahead. It was because at that time of day, if I used a bit of imagination, the light from Costa Rica’s morning sun made my dark, curly hair glow a golden yellow. I would go into daydreams of myself: blonde with bright blue eyes and a perfectly pink smile, driving off in a matching magenta convertible with the most popular boy in the class (who was, incidentally, also blonde). Because of course, the reason I never crossed his mind just had to have been my looks. But the day darkened to match my skin, and I went back to my Barbies, back to the world I created and the bodies and features I desired.
If I have to confess, I never really liked pink as much as blue, and high heels were never my style. If it boils down to uncovering secrets, once puberty set in I was perplexed as to why I wasn’t “growing” as much as I was “supposed to”. If I didn’t follow the pattern, I could never be a Barbie doll, and that meant, God Forbid, I would have my quince años and never have been kissed.
Not like Priscila. Green eyes, electric blonde hair, small waist, white skin… Perfect. I casually remember her telling me she had her first French kiss at around 10 or 11, and she wanted to know when I would get around to thinking of having mine. And then there was Shakira: Brunette music idol of Latin America and another of my role models, not in the least bit bimbo-ish. When she released Laundry Service it was a low blow. Singing in English is one thing. Did she have to bleach her hair in order to become the new flavour of the U.S. pop charts? Interestingly enough, even though most of my classmates and I revered the blonde look, the great majority of us thought Shakira was selling out. She should be proud of her dark hair and Latin roots! Like us… right?
I actually hadn’t thought about it before I wrote this, but maybe that was the breaking point where I got over wanting to be a Barbie. I always assumed it was because fashion began to change in favour of a Latin Lover look, or because of the wonderful (brown haired) boyfriend I’ve been dating since I was 14, or simply because I realized that what I look like really isn’t that important.
Whatever might have been the case, I came to realize that a lot of what I thought I favoured was because Barbie- and quite a bit of advertising, for that matter- told me that’s what I should do. Not just that- I noticed with shock that for a long time I belonged to a legion of little girls who were living too fast and dreaming of makeup, nail polish, “ideal” hair and eye colour, perfect teeth, dieting, breast implants and a physique that could not be further from what our true “Ticas Lindas” (pretty Costa Rican girls) look like. Of course, I can’t say this is all Barbies fault, especially since Costa Rica’s culture has too often revolved around European and North American ideals. I would be lying if I said I think that Barbies are ugly, and I love the detail and attention given to them. I even have a few never-removed-from-box Barbies that I cherish as collectors items. What I mean to say is that although I appreciate their particular beauty, I became a much bigger fan of my own. Whereas before I would look at myself and point out everything that was “wrong” with me, now I look at what actually makes me a person that people remember. My best asset is the fact that I am real, I am natural, and despite past insecurities, I relish looking in the mirror and smiling, not at the yellow glow over my hair, but at a unique body that holds a beautiful soul.
I am not a beaconing light shining the way for a higher self esteem, but if there’s one piece of advice I can give others it’s this: don’t let anyone, not even Barbie, dictate what beauty is to you. We are like raindrops, the kind that are permanently suspended in the air of my homeland, and the light that shines through us produces a prism that is one of a kind. Instead of looking towards others, we should let that light in and show it to the world.