She wasn’t supposed to be for kids. Yet today her name is synonymous with little girls and boys playing house and dress up. Playing pretend. In reality, she was a high-end call girl from Germany. A novelty, sold in tobacco shops and adult entertainment stores, not the aisles of Toys R Us or Target. She had large plastic breasts, a flowing platinum ponytail, heavily painted makeup, and arched eyebrows suggesting she was ready to play. And dress up wasn’t the game.
Her name was Lilli, but you probably know her as Barbie. Today she’s everywhere. She still has large plastic breasts and a flowing platinum ponytail, but now she also comes in other colors and sizes. Barbie is no longer just an impossibly proportioned white woman pushing young girls to want to be both thinner and curvier, and bleach their hair and paint their faces. She represents the every woman, or so Mattel would like you to think.
I wonder what Lilli would think of all of this? Of herself as a doll millions of children and adults play with and collect worldwide?
I never really gave it much thought until Helena became too real.
Helena was supposed to be my chance. The answer to my prayers. She was going to give me the one thing I always wanted—a child of my own. I thought it was uncomplicated—sign away the rights to my face, body, and voice—and get rich. It was the modern version of egg and sperm donations. You went to the bank, and instead of depositing your seed, sat in a booth and recorded a variety of sayings or stood in front of a green screen with sensors attached to your face to record your expressions to various instructions, questions, and conversations. Everytime someone purchased your copy, you received a check.
Helena was going to save my marriage. She was going to fill the emptiness inside me since I found out I could never naturally conceive. She was going to give me the means to get the implantation. The whole thing seemed so simple; this was how people made money now. The bank limited one deposit per household. My husband, David, and I agreed I was more marketable. Before I knew it Helena, the name given to my unique copy, was real.
Helena is 5’7 and ¾‘’ with a slender collarbone and build and delicate hands. She has my crooked smile and wide set hazel eyes. Even her hair is my exact shade of strawberry blond, yet somehow it appears more shiny than mine ever does. Her design is flawless. She is composed of skin and hair and eyelashes, but also wires and titanium and carbon fibers. She is me, yet she isn’t. Not quite anyway. She is almost like a doll, but not something you put on a shelf or pull a string in the back to make her say, “I’m Sally Sunshine and I love you.” Helena is a thinking, moving being, yet she exists without real life, without humanity.
What no one told me was that seeing Helena in my family and friends’ homes and in my local coffee shop and pharmacy was like being erased one copy at a time. It all started with my mother. She always said I didn’t visit enough and was ungrateful, so she got Helena, who looked and sounded like me, and lived in my childhood room. She became the perfect daughter my mother always wanted.
Soon a couple of my friends pitched in to get one. I saw Helena at a housewarming party at my friend, Tessa’s. “You’re kidding, right?” My copy was busy refilling the snack table with cheese, italian meats, and potato chips.
“You and David are so busy trying to have a baby, we never see you. This way we actually get to spend time with you,” Tessa said.
“But that’s not me.”
She shrugged. “She’s here when you’re not. And she’s always up to go out.”
“Because she’s programmed to.”
Tessa’s lip twitched in the way it always did when she was upset but didn’t want to show it. “I’m glad you could make it, Riley.” She walked over to Helena, where the two started chatting and laughing.
It was one thing for my mother to get Helena; she was perpetually nostalgic and clingy. It made sense to me, and honestly, got me off the hook for many things. My mother stopped calling about her book club and church; she had Helena, the perfect version of her daughter to go with her. Even my friends, while maddening, had a point. David and I had been in our own world since we started trying to have a baby. Our friends weren’t ready for kids or didn’t want them at all, so of course they felt hurt by our absence. Every resource my husband and I had went into starting a family. And, with the sales of my copy, we almost had enough for the implantation. What I couldn’t accept, and never imagined, was David buying Helena.
I came home after Tessa’s party to find my husband of four and a half years ploughing Helena in the most grotesque position. I later looked it up; it’s called froggy style. Trust me, the name provides a clear enough depiction. The infidelity could have maybe been forgivable if it had been with another woman. One with big bouncy tits or a come fuck me mouth. But he cheated with my copy. A mechanical, programmable Riley. What do you do when your husband wants to fuck the robot you? When the people you love would rather have a version of you they can play with and control? I wonder how Lilli dealt with it; her copy, Barbie, becoming real, while she was stripped of her life, her family and friends, morphing into a doll, another copy, on a shelf. Because that’s what I am now, just another copy. Soon, I’m not even sure I’ll be real anymore.
Christina Rosso is a writer, educator, and dog mom living in South Philadelphia. In 2016, she received a MFA in Creative Writing and Master’s in English from Arcadia University. She teaches various writing courses at La Salle University, Penn State Abington, and Cabrini University. Her work has been featured in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Across the Margin, Leopardskin & Limes, Ink & Voices, and more. For more information, please visit https://christinarosso.wordpress.com/ or find her on Twitter @Rosso_Christina.