Kara Bright Kilgore gives us a glimpse into the life of a well-to-do teenager for whom appearances are paramount.
The next day I was late to the dinner party. I'd been arranging my doll house and lost track of time. Maybe, just maybe, I could pass for "fashionably late". I hurriedly slipped on my dress, my black shoes with the bow and tiny buckle (the ones that were recently buffed to a high gloss shine just for this occasion). I checked my nails to make sure they were immaculate and, of course, they were. I opened my jewelry box and the tiny ballerina twirled while brief, bright notes of the music box filled the room. I fastened the clasp of my pearl necklace behind my neck and put on my silver heart ring that my father had made for me just last year. I opened the drawer below the tiny, ever turning, ballerina and grabbed the pearl bracelet that matched my necklace, but as I held it up to the light I decided against it. No, less is more. That's what grandmother would say. I put it back in its proper place. Finally, I turned and sat down at my vanity and gazed into the large mirror. I was happy to sit down while I arranged my hair. The shoes were uncomfortable, but they were shiny and beautiful and, after all, that's really the only thing that mattered. I brushed my blonde hair until it shined, way too many times, almost forgetting that I needed to hurry. Lastly, I secured my hair on the side with a small barrette and stood before one of the full sized mirrors. Everything was in place. Not too little. Not too much. I smiled my party smile, straightened my posture, and reminded myself to be bright, just like my name.
I opened the door to the dining room and tried not to see my mother's disapproving where-have-you-been stare. I just smiled and offered my hand to my various relatives. "Why, Hello Aunt Claire. It's so good to see you too." "Yes, I heard about your new gardener. The flowers will certainly be beautiful this year." "Good evening Mr. Akin. Thank you so much for coming!" "My lovely dress? Oh, this old thing... why, thank you. That's kind of you to say." "Yes sir, I'm doing well in school. We're learning to diagram sentences this year." Another aunt hugs me tight, takes me by the shoulders and says, "Look at you! My goodness, before we know it you'll be a teenager! Stay young, darling. Stay young for as long as you can." I watch my aunt walk away and as she passes my grandmother I hear her say: "Such a lovely girl... you must be so proud of her." Mr. Akin hears this too, raises his glass of wine and adds: "And smart too!"
Such a smart girl, such a pretty girl, lovelier each day, polite, and such polished manners. Just look how she holds that china teacup with her spoon stirring in delicate circles before lady-like sips. The room, the guests, all seem to move around me. A curtsy here. A smile there. Mind the good china and be polite to the guests. Stand up straight and walk like a woman, even if your shoes hurt. I remembered that from The Little Mermaid story. Ariel smiled and danced gracefully with the prince even though every step brought stabbing pain to her new, unfamiliar human feet. Just the price she had to pay. I bet the smile never left her face. I could be like her. Of course I could. As I sipped ginger ale from a wine glass, I noticed that guests had spread out all over the house and were sitting in clusters talking about this and that. I decided to join the ladies that were chatting in the living room with the tall windows, large chandelier, and the comfortable chaise longue. That's when I saw her as I entered the room. There was Barbie lying on the corner of the chaise longue, still in her nightie. One of her straps had slid off her shoulder, exposing her bare breast. The sun was bright that day, and I realized with growing terror that as the light streamed in and bounced off the prisms of the chandelier it magnified wide rays of light, one of which spotlighted Barbie. I was furious with her. I walked quickly to retrieve her, but my aunt handed her to me. "Here's your doll, sweetheart!" she said as she went back to her teacakes and conversation. I clutched Barbie to my chest and wondered what the proper etiquette was for this situation. I blurted out, "Excuse me... I'll be right back," and left to the murmuring sounds of, "Alright, dear."
The hallway back to my room felt like a tightrope walk. The air got thinner and I couldn't look down. I closed and locked the door to my room, tears blurring my vision. I held Barbie at eye level and after a few sniffs, felt like I could address her. "How could you do this? How could you embarrass me in front of everyone after all I've done for you?" I grabbed my pillow from the bed, buried my face in it, and screamed in fury. I held her by her silicone legs and ripped the nightie off, buttons and lace falling at my feet. I looked deep into those deceiving blue eyes and growled, "I don't care what you do at night, in the dark. I don't even want to know because I don't want yet another secret to keep for you, but let me explain something to you... when you own a pink mansion, a corvette, beautifully tailored clothes, a beach house, two clothing lines, and a jet you are expected to act a certain way!" I grabbed a modest cornflower blue, ankle length party dress and hurriedly shoved her in to it before straightening the seams. She was always coming apart at the seams. I'm always having to keep her lines straight. I braided her hair and clenched my jaw. "What will people think of you? I'll tell you what they're thinking, what they're whispering about. They're thinking, she's certainly not one of us. Even with the clothes, the beautiful hair, delicate hands, and that pretty face, she just doesn't belong. Don't you understand? If they think you aren't good enough and that you aren't one of them that's the worst thing that can happen! You're lucky you have me. Don't forget that. Because we, of course, are one of them. We belong to this glittering class of well dressed, well mannered, lovely people, even despite your best efforts to ruin us." Earrings on, and then the shoes that didn't quite fit. I forced her tiny feet into them. I hoped they pinched and hurt her feet, and felt that it would be a suitable punishment. I smoothed my hair, picked up Barb and went back to the party. "You'll dance, even if it hurts. You'll dance because that is what you must do."