Recently, my boyfriend asked what must've seemed an innocuous question: "What videotapes did you watch as a kid?"
After running through a couple old-school faves—the creepy "toys come alive" Babes in Toyland; the creepier still "stuffed animals come alive" The More We Sing Together—I was struck by a memory that had been comfortably hibernating in the bowels of the deepest recesses of my mind.
Oh my god, I used to be obsessed with a Barbie workout video.
That's right-back in the low-fi '90s, there was a video called Dance! Workout with Barbie starring the "perfect"—body diva herself. The graphics, as you can imagine, were less than dazzling—bent limbs in particular posed a problem for animatronic Barbie, so her signature move involved her swaying her straight-locked arms back and forth behind her back.
Then there was the, shall we say, the style element. The bubbly blond adult instructor—who I now remember vividly was named "Kim"—was outfitted to match a gaggle of little girls and Barbie herself in a skin-tight leotard with scrunch socks, a matching head band and high tops (naturally, Barbie's leotard had stars, because she's the boss). And yes, as a kid, I thought this was the pinnacle of take-no-prisoners-fashion.
As a grown-ass woman looking back on this bizarro-world film, it's hard not to feel conflicted. On the one hand, promoting fitness and health in kids is entirely commendable (step aside, Michelle Obama; Barbie was the Let's Move! OG). And I have to admit, the dance moves were ridiculously fun. Three steps to the left! Arm pump! Kick! Three steps to the right! Arm pump! Kick! My mom also used to do the video with me, which made for a sweet—if, in retrospect, utterly odd—mother-daughter bonding event.
Then again, it's hard to support a video that tells little girls they should work out to look like Barbie—the comically thin, buxom icon is hardly a body positivity role model. I could arm pump! kick! and step! myself into sweaty oblivion, but I never did, and never will, boast Barb's proportions (nor would I want to. In she were real, the woman would be walking on all fours and have trouble keeping her head upright). I wonder how many little girls were set on a path of perpetual body image disappointment as a result of this video?
Mostly though, I'm just thankful for YouTube, which magically offers up clips of this late 80s/early 90s fever dream. Work it, Barbie. Work it.