Clair McFarland: I Can't Watch The Barbie Movie (Not After What I Did To Her)

Clair McFarland writes, “My boisterous cousin Michael materialized out of nowhere and showed us how to pop off Barbie’s head and stick a firecracker into her neck. We lit the doll, threw her in the air and ran backwards."

Clair McFarland

August 11, 20234 min read

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I can’t watch Barbie’s movie. Not after what I’ve done to her.  

I was a tomboyish kid, but I still had a pink room and Barbie dolls. I coveted the dolls’ shiny blonde hair and hourglass figures.   

But I was a skinny dark muppet with bangs. I stomped around in hand-me-down Reeboks with both knees skinned and called my brothers “numb-nuts,” which I didn’t realize was a crass term until an aghast sixth-grade teacher threw me into detention for using it at school.   

My sister Nici and I let the Barbies host a dance on my soft and colorless bedroom carpet. Nici built complex storylines and relational friction.  

I cut their hair and spun them around by their dainty flexed feet.  

That was one of many summers I spent mowing people’s lawns. When the fireworks store opened, my brothers and I blew all our lawn-mowing money on explosives.  

I bought a couple Barbies at Kmart too. Back then,the basic slim-box dolls with no change of clothes, no job, no boyfriend and no little sister cost $4 each.  

My mom (bless her heart) trusted us to be responsible. She let us run wild while she groomed dogs and sang Reba McIntyre songs off-key in a sweltering shop walled off from our garage.  

No one paid her to sing, but I understand she earned money for shaving people’s dogs.  

My brothers and I launched army men into space on bottle rockets. We blazed through the underwater dynamite. Mom peeked out every two hours to count our fingers.  

“Heyyyyy,” said my brother Leland, who was a trove of edgy ideas. “Let’s blow up a Barbie!” 

It had crossed my mind too.  

But did I dare?  

Barbie was ideal. Her bright blue eyes and pink crescent smile were at once motherly and professional. She strode in heels, she stood up straight, she trusted everyone.  

No matter how much of my sister’s high-dollar hair product I stole, I never morphed into a glossy doll like that. I never shed my impish expression.  

Part of me needed Barbie as a goalpost. Part of me wanted to blow her up.  

I had two brothers and one sister (my youngest sister wasn’t born yet) so graceful femininity got outvoted. I rushed inside and gathered the expendable Barbies by their slim ankles like bouquets in each fist.  

There were a few I wouldn’t bomb. The mermaid with orange hair. The porcelain one with a literal chip on her shoulder. The random Rosie O’Donnel Barbie my mom bought me because it had a groundbreaking “realistic” waistline.  

But the rest were cheap clones who gossiped too much and quarreled over Ken, forcing me to bring clumsy G.I. Joes to their classy cocktail parties.  

I could sacrifice these Barbies for a worthy cause, like morbid curiosity.  

My brothers were thrilled. My boisterous cousin Michael materialized out of nowhere and showed us how to pop off Barbie’s head and stick a firecracker into her neck.  

We lit the doll, threw her in the air and ran backwards.  

Plastic exploded in frilled geometric shards, raining carnage onto our sagebrush paradise. The shards weren’t beautiful or ugly. They were just shapes. Burnt, melted, severed, expanding shreds of matter driven away by a sudden irreversible combustion, glinting in the sun, rushing to the ground, sifting into desert thorns. 

I marveled.  

Barbie was just plastic.  

The epitome of feminine beauty and breezy professionalism was a farce as thin as the charred shreds now littering the cacti.  

There was nothing more to her. No masterful organ network powering her body. No thrumming brain, no awkward memories, no painful recollection of this world’s injustices goading her to fight back with her own purpose and meaning.  

And in case you’re getting Toy-Story-villain, serial-killer vibes, let me assure you, there’s nothing more developmentally normal than for a feral country girl to throw her own ideal beauty figure into the air and watch it explode – then to grow up around her own awkward memories.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter