Fiction by Miranda Schwartz
Photo Illustration by Jennifer Jacqua

Barbie photo Sandy Duncan tells me I can eat without guilt. Lay's says I can't eat just one. Lynn Redgrave promises me living, prepared food in little boxes, offering some hope and comfort in the frightening chaos of the world of food. I'm looking for inspiration in Cosmopolitan, only to find a picture of a miserable model, the caption reading, "Your thighs are too big. Cottage-cheesy (large curd). But with hair like this, no one will notice."

She's not fat, never has been, never will be. But something about this ad clutches at my fat-girl self. I will buy Dep hair styling gel. I will go back to aerobics. I will be a size three, even if I have to get all my bones removed. Maybe I can be just like Barbie if I try hard enough. I can have a pink Corvette and a boyfriend with plastic molded hair. I can look like everyone else, only better, because I can be so conformist that I can disappear. I call Barbie's Manhattan office. She's out to lunch, would I care to leave a message?

Barbie is having lunch at the Russian Tea Room. Barbie wears a hot pink Chanel suit, with a boxy cropped jacket and slim tailored skirt to emphasize her slender waist. Under her jacket she wears a sheer, pale pink, silk blouse, very tasteful, and a solitaire diamond pendant. Her stockings are nude, her shoes white. What a woman. Barbie is having a business lunch. She is marketing an aerobics video and diet drink. The target market -- girls, ages 9 to 15. She'd like to help the youth of America by teaching them about good health -- from the first training bra, from the first Barbie dream house, from the first erotic fantasy about Ken, or about Barbie herself. She doesn't mind being a girl's first crush. It makes sense to fall in love with someone you want to be yourself. Barbie orders shrimp salad, hold the mayo; fresh salmon, hold the oil. She eats two and a half shrimp and four bites of salmon. She takes the rest home for her poodle, Noodle. Barbie orders fruit salad for dessert. Please remove all fruit that isn't pink, she says. The waiter returns with a bowl of watermelon and pink grapefruit. There is an errant strawberry. Barbie cannot decide if it is pink or red. She leaves it in there, feeling whimsical, since she and Mr. Byle are about to ruin the health of a generation of girls.

The way I see it, he says, is that if we start them young enough, they'll be hooked for life. They'll grow old with you. Barbie presses her lips together, turns her delicate head from him. Not that you'll ever be old, Barbie, he says, realizing his faux pas, what I mean is the sooner we get them started the sooner they can realize that they want to be like you. Young and perfect forever. No bags, no sags, no wrinkles, no flab. Just perfect. Barbie, placated, smiles at Mr. Byle, but in her head swims a miasma of doubt. She is getting old. Barbie is 40, and although she still has a three-inch bust and a one-inch waist, she is worried. She thought she saw a tiny crack near her eye, a ripple around her waist, a slight bubble in her thigh.

She looks down at her plate, horrified at how much watermelon she ate. Barbie is not feeling well. She excuses herself from the table and walks through the restaurant to the bathroom. Everyone stops what they are doing to watch Barbie's graceful path. She still has perfect posture, her golden hair still has bounce and shine. Barbie checks under the doors for other feet. Barbie locks herself in a red and gold stall. Barbie carefully tucks her ponytail in the collar of her suit and bends over the toilet. Barbie sticks a finger topped with Paradise Pink Sheer Fantasy polish down her throat. Barbie gags. Barbie retches. Barbie watches a cascade of half-digested pink food flow from her cherry-soda lips. She feels much better. Barbie washes her face and hands, pops a one-and-a half-calorie breath mint and a Valium into her mouth, re-applies her lipstick and returns to the table. Mr. Byle has ordered a second lunch of fettucine and prime rib. When the bloody meat arrives, Barbie excuses herself, thanking him and telling him to call for further meetings. I'm thrilled about our deal, she says, and I have a few more ideas to make it even more successful. Mr. Byle nods and smiles, blood dripping down his chin.

Barbie cringes a little. Anyway, she continues, I'm going to be introducing a new product. It's a diet and exercise plan, specifically designed for achieving perfection.

I never expected Barbie to return my call. But there she is on the phone, my idol and first love. I can't believe you're calling me, I gush, I've known you since I was a little girl!

Yes, well, it's funny you called. I got your message, and your story sounded so intriguing. I have a secret to tell you and a favor to ask.

Barbie has a secret for me? Just like I imagined as a girl, gossiping, sharing secrets, clothes -- maybe she'll let me borrow her Corvette, her dog, her boyfriend.

Oh, Barbie, I'll do anything.

Well, she says, I know that I've long been the maven of beauty and fashion for millions of girls ...

As long as I can remember! I say.

Barbie cringes a little. Anyway, she continues, I'm going to be introducing a new product. It's a diet and exercise plan, specifically designed for achieving perfection. Now any young girl or teen can be just like me. You said you're fed up with yourself, you've tried every diet there is.

Barbie, I say, aren't I too old?

No, she assures me, we want to test our product, and if possible, find a representative for it. She doesn't have to be young, just look young. Can you stop by my office tomorrow?

Tomorrow? I repeat breathlessly. Yes, I'll be there. Barbie hands me over to her secretary, Ms. Shell, who tells me that Barbie's glazed rose limo will be picking me up tomorrow at 9am. Oh, and dear, she says, please wear pink.

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