I have never had a Barbie doll. As a child growing up in a low-income, Chinese-and-Hokkien-speaking household, I’d always thought the cocktail-sipping, convertible-driving milieu of the angmoh zaboh (Hokkien for "Caucasian lady") with the implausibly long legs and tiny waist was rather alien.
But Miss Barbara “Barbie” Millicent Robert must have done something right, to put it daintily. Since gliding onto the scene in a black-and-white striped one-piece swimsuit on March 9, 1959, Barbie has sold more than a billion copies of herself in 150 countries, dressed in countless looks and sporting an entire spectrum of skin colours.
Andy Warhol, Yves Saint-Laurent, and Kenzo have paid tribute to her, roads have been named after her, books and research done about her. And of course, innumerable girls want to be her. Indeed one such girl, 23-year-old Ukrainian model Valeria Lukyanova recently turned herself into an all too life-like image of Barbie with plastic surgery, reported The Sun, a British newspaper.
So, when the world’s first Barbie Cafe opened in Taipei on Wednesday, it could only be a hot (pink) affair fit for a cultural icon.
I found myself jostling for elbow room with other journalists from international and Taiwanese media in the 660-sq-m restaurant decked out head to toe in cherry pink, Barbie’s signature colour.
There were plush pink sofa seats upholstered in pink Barbie bust motifs and pink chairs wearing tutus and striped pink socks on their legs.
Barbie’s coyly smiling perfection gazed at you from floor to ceiling posters and the cover of the menu. Food was served on plates and glasses printed with Barbie pattern, which also appeared on cakes and entrees. The waitresses, with their fake eyelashes and pink hair pieces and tutu skirts and long legs, looked like Barbie.It was all so determinedly saccharine that the video clips I shot seemed out of this world.
Enough, in fact, to make grown women weep. As Ms Wendy Chang, whose company Impact Marketing Licensing Management is Barbie maker Mattel’s Taiwan licensee, told me:
“The night before the opening we came here for one final check. When we switched on all the lights and saw how pretty it was, the tears just welled up,” said Ms Chang of the cafe, the fruit of a 18-month collaboration between her company, restaurateur Sinlaku, and Mattel.
So who am I to thumb my nose at this gastronomic outlet of a worldwide cultural icon?So what if Barbie has been criticised as an unhealthy role model for girls, that it holds women to unattainable physical standards, that it’s sexist?
When I’m in the Barbie world of a Barbie cafe, drinking from Barbie-faced cups and eating from Barbie-faced plates, I’m not going to obsess about the fact that my chest will never be as, erm, well-formed as Barbie’s. That my body mass index overshoots the Barbie ideal of 16.24 by 5 points. That my waist-hip ratio is 50 per cent heftier than hers.
After all, it was Barbie herself who said “B who U wanna B”.