My Awkward Relationship With Barbie, Pink, And Being Genderless

Growing up, Barbie represented everything I was not. But now, I'm more like her than I ever thought.

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Ever since I was a little girl, I was told that Barbie was the enemy. Barbie, to people I was around, was everything I should not be. I was actively warned against being "Barbie."

Pink. Housewife. Stupid. And though they never said it out loud, there was a certain stigma that came with the flashy all-American femininity that Barbie signified.

You see, I came from a household that prioritized school. And fantasy novels. And medieval weaponry. And Xena. And not most modern TV. I was meant to be smart, tough, and creative.


I never liked Barbie, and that only got worse when I was in school. Why? Because my bullies liked Barbie.

As I grew, Barbie began to symbolize everything that I was not.

Barbie was socially accepted, popular, pretty, and privileged. She was not the outcast, the socially awkward, or the person who could never figure out how to get people to understand her.


By the time I was in high school, I used the word "Barbie" as an insult. If I called you Barbie, it was a sign that I didn’t just hate you — I loathed you. I actually had a hobby of breaking Barbie dolls apart, just because they reminded me of everything I hated.

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Little did I realize that the hatred I poured into that brand was the hatred I truly felt for the way people treated me — not for a doll. And to a lesser point, it reflected the way I hated my own experience of being female.

I should explain this. My school life was horrible. If there was one thing that I began to truly despise by the time I hit college, it was the way people behaved around me. I prefer goth streetwear and edgy clothes. I am eccentric. That was not "in" back then.


But you know what? I’m a decent person and deserved to not be bullied, regardless of trends. But we don’t always get what we deserve.

Throughout high school and college…

  • I was goth. People would actually tell me, "It’s not Halloween, Ossiana. Why do you have to be so weird?"
  • When I let out cries for help, they were promptly ignored by everyone. Staff, classmates, and even my teachers.
  • I was regularly called ugly and fat.
  • I endured people telling me that "people would like you more if you just dressed differently" and that "people who dress like that amount to nothing."
  • I struggled with sexual abuse, sexual assault, and gender identity. Everyone told me what I was, but never let me choose. I eventually began to dissociate into my own reality because my real life was just too horrible.
  • I constantly found myself in double binds where I showed too much one minute, looked too frumpy the next, and then was too broke to afford "in" clothing that looked weird on me anyway. No matter what I did, I was wrong in the eyes of my peers.
  • People avoided me and refused to talk to me unless I slept with them. Then, they’d pretend to be nice for five minutes and then make fun of me because I was lonely. (This is sexual abuse, by the way. Let’s call it what it is.)
  • People gave me nothing to work with, not even a basic job. Then told me that my life was "so much better" despite having no one around me who believed in me, listened to what I wanted in life, and me getting screamed at on a daily basis.
  • People put photos of pigs on my flash drive when I told them I was a model. They were put in the same folder as my modeling photos.

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Saying that I hate my college and high school is putting it politely. And while I continued struggling to at least make people laugh or enjoy time with me, I saw them.


Who were they, you ask? They were Barbies.

The sorority girls. All dressed in pink, often with the same shade of blonde hair. They had fancy cars. They had rings on their fingers. Guys were proud to be with them, unlike me.

They always were respected. They always had the spotlight. Their parents liked how they turned out and no one called them a freak. They were pink, personified. And they made a point of showing me how much better they were than me.

While I dropped out of college because I feared I’d kill myself in front of my classmates if I didn’t, they got to graduate. And I’m sure that the girls from college went on to get married, with family and friends around, and that they are wealthier and more financially stable than me.


That’s not easy to watch happen, for someone in my shoes. Needless to say, there was a long period of my life where anything that looked like Barbie would make me feel a strange rage. It’d boil up in me in ways that would be hard for many to understand.

People who even looked like Barbie raised my hackles. I often fought the urge to scream, "Why don't you ever like me?" 

I disliked being female and having to act female.

I never felt comfortable having boobs or a functioning reproductive system. I never could "woman" right, and people made sure to tell me that daily.

And Barbie, once again, reminded me of how I was made wrong, was doing it wrong.


In a weird way, I was jealous that Barbie had the body type I yearned for: nothing downstairs and a borderline flat chest. In another weird way, I wanted to prove how much better I was than the nebulous concept of Barbie by flouting every major aspect of the doll’s look and vibe.

For the better part of my 20s, I made a point of dressing as masculinely as possible. I had run off to different cities and became notorious for my rage and my addictions. I looked and acted tough, loud, and brash. Honestly, I’m still a hothead.

The years of abuse I suffered in school left me with a lot of issues, many of which I still have today. Eventually, I just closed myself off to anyone who even remotely looked like the people I used to go to school with. Up until recently, my last office job was the last time I’d even bothered trying to talk to them on a regular basis. I didn’t even like wearing pink back then.

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Since then, things have changed and I made a full 180 when it came to my Barbie stance.

As someone who hated these dolls so much, I understand why it would be baffling.

Honestly, it was because I saw the Barbie documentary, Tiny Shoulders. When I found out that Barbie was initially a sex doll that was stigmatized by parents, things started to make sense. Barbie was not based on the conformist, horrible people I grew up around.

I was actually more of a Barbie than they ever were or will be.

I spent most of my life being known for my (albeit offbeat) looks. No one really cared about my personality or what I went through. For a large portion of my life, I was a model because I wanted to prove everyone wrong and show them that I was beautiful.


Sounds familiar? Yes. Sounds like Barbie to me, too.

I always tried to be a good person or to be kind. I didn’t always succeed, but I tried. And nowadays, I see a lot more people dressing like me than ever before. Much like Barbie, I went from X-rated and edgy to something more commonly embraced and accepted.

Behind the vacuous eyes of Barbie is a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut … she can be anything. She can have it all and she can still be fashionable as ever. She was so much more substantial as a person than people put her out to be. And you know what? She’s also super nice, too.

In a lot of ways, the new Barbie movie with Margot Robbie as the main Barbie carried that same attitude over.


They made a point of having all the different Barbies have different careers — a rebellion against the idea that women should smile, be nice, and be a housewife.

In my lifetime, I’ve been a writer, a model, a software engineering intern, and a marketer; I suppose in that sense, I am a lot like Barbie. I felt silly admitting it to myself at first. To a point, it’s likely that a lot of other girls out there, just like me, are more Barbie than they want to admit.

Realizing that Barbie was a bigger rebel than people thought she was, I quickly began to love Barbie. What few hangups I had about self-care and looks went out the window.


I have fake eyelashes today, sometimes accented with pink or purple. I have pink nails. I go to the salon at least twice a week. Oh, and shopping? I openly admit I love it. I even have Barbie shirts and accessories.

And honestly? Learning to love my inner Barbie has made it so much easier for me to love myself. Every pink eyelash and bleach-dyed hair is my way of rebelling against what people tried to muzzle in the past.

I am Barbie, hear me roar!

But am I still genderless?

Here’s the weird thing. I still consider myself genderless. I don’t feel comfortable having a uterus and I don’t like having breasts. If I could, I’d still choose to look like a Barbie without boobs.


The difference is, I no longer look at the color pink as an enemy. I’m not that fragile in my masculinity. Or femininity. I'm just glittery and bright by nature, genitalia be damned.

I guess you could say: I was just made that way.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.