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FORTY-SOMETHING FIRST-TIME MOM | Barbie told me I can do anything, and yet…

I grew up in the ‘80s and Barbie was my role model. And contrary to how feminists look down on her for cultivating a negative body image, I considered Barbie as a true icon for the career woman wannabe. Barbie’s slogan in the ‘80s was “We girls can do anything. Right, Barbie?” And I believed that. I wanted to be as successful as Barbie. She has more than 200 careers on her resume. And she even broke the proverbial “plastic ceiling” in 1965 when she became an astronaut and beat Neil Armstrong to the moon. 

I had the Barbie house with the kitchen set. I had Ken, the twins from the Heart Family, and Skipper, Barbie’s little sister whom I have assigned to be Barbie’s tween daughter. In one of my play patterns, Barbie would be a mom to Skipper and the Heart twins, and of course, a wife to Ken. And she kept house. And she was happy. It was a sweet and glamorous life awash in pink. How I wish I could just be Barbie and put on that toothy smile all day. 

But that was an ‘80s Barbie. Today, the iconic doll has become politically correct, racially inclusive, and humanly proportionate but somehow looks confused. Every time I’d visit any mall, my trips would always include a quick scan of the Barbie selection in the toy store. And each time it just gets depressing for me. 

Today’s Barbies all look different. Where’s the Barbie I know? I understand and respect the whole agenda behind such progressive ideas on representation but if I have to be honest about it, I feel it’s somehow just tokenism. Despite being mostly white and blonde, Retro Barbie wasn’t trying too hard to please society. She was just doing what she wanted to do, and unapologetically so. And that’s what I miss about her. 

And that’s what I miss about myself too. 

Ever since I had to quit my job because I couldn’t get childcare help and the company I worked for couldn’t provide a childcare room, I’ve been finding myself slipping into a whirlpool of an existential crisis. It’s so hard to lose agency simply because you are a woman. It’s so hard to lose an identity that I’ve been holding on to since I was a child.  I was mostly raised to excel in school and compete for honors. Barbie never took the backseat for Ken. 

These days, my therapy includes a nostalgia trip down YouTube’s rabbit hole of retro Barbie commercials. Barbie today offers no fantasy because she’s been grounded in reality. And reality sucks… and bites. I miss the escape that Barbie offers. Was Barbie delusional when she told me more than 30 years ago that I can do anything? No. Barbie had to say it because, at that time, women were still trying to challenge the status quo. We all needed that motivation back then. 

But the narrative has changed. Now, we see mothers being secretly shamed for wanting to work. Woke parenting has given birth to this new set of millennial moms who are just so good at hacking everything from breastfeeding to baby-led weaning, and even cloth diapering. It’s like a mortal sin to be unhappy about motherhood. Nobody wants to talk about postpartum depression. 

I believed Barbie when she said that I can do anything so I want a career but I also want to be an available mom. My husband told me it’s about doing one thing at a time. And in this season, I have to choose motherhood and nothing else. And that really depressed me. Barbie told me I can do anything and if I want to raise a child and also save the world through my non-profit work, why can’t I? Why shouldn’t I? 

These days, I find myself breaking dishes in the sink out of frustration instead of breaking the glass ceiling. There’s still so much work to be done out there. And I know I can do it even with my baby’s mouth on my teats. But guilt trippers would always say, my child needs me more. I believe that is true but that can’t be the only truth.  

Some argue that being a housewife is a noble role, one that provides stability and support to a family. While there is merit to this viewpoint, it should never come at the expense of a woman’s autonomy and individuality. Just as men are not solely defined by their careers, women too deserve the freedom to choose their paths, to pursue their passions, and to be equal partners in all aspects of life.

The struggle of career-oriented women turned housewives is real. It is a clash between two worlds. On one hand, we have experienced the exhilaration of pursuing our passions, contributing to society, and realizing our full potential. On the other, we face the stifling confines of domesticity, stripped of the sense of purpose that comes with professional achievement. This clash leaves scars, both visible and invisible, as we grapple with feelings of unfulfillment, resentment, and a profound loss of identity. 

While the new Barbie slogan tells me, “You can be anything,” society tells me I can be anything but not all at the same time. 



Jill Palarca is a licensed professional teacher specializing in Media and Information Literacy, and is also currently the chairperson of Media Educators of Mindanao. She is mom to angels Meryl and Lyanna, and rainbow baby, Andrea. 


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