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by Karol Ann Barnett c1996

Bravo! Shannon Lucid just returned from outer space with the longest endurance record in the history of space flight. Imagine that. A woman. A record-breaking astronaut. With three kids yet. I never dreamed of being an astronaut when I was a child. I only dreamed of being beautiful.

When I was a little girl, my two sisters and I had enormous fun playing with our Barbie dolls. Every night, every day, we had continuing adventures with the most beautiful doll in the universe. And we were encouraged to do so.

As we grew, we transferred our Barbie adventures into ourselves. We had dreams of becoming the most beautiful Barbie look-alike in creation. The only worthwhile endeavor for women seemed to be the quest of beauty. And we were encouraged to believe so.

In our teens and 20s, we spent huge amounts of time and money improving our looks, whether they needed improvement or not. An unhealthy competition set in amongst the three of us that still cripples us today. We still struggle with who is the prettiest, youngest-looking, or the thinnest. Not too often do we compare IQ scores or creative pursuits. The dark specter of Barbie and the competition of humans trying to emulate a plastic doll still lingers.

In our 30s we managed to achieve some semblance of beauty, but emotionally we had gone our separate ways. The competition to be the prettiest sister had mortally wounded the relationship that was once based on love. Okay, maybe we weren't Barbie with her perfect, youthful features. Maybe we were more like Venus de Milo. A bit more stately; a bit more statuesque, if you will. But our strength had been cut-off just like Venus' arms had been. Soon we had become cheap imitations of an original work of art. No longer plastic, we were now sullied in some kind of unforgiving, sticky glue and cast from a die.

The years passed and we had more and more difficulty trying to stretch the perfect image over spreading bodies and wrinkled brows. The days of Barbie and Venus de Milo now were a faded memory as the weighty, menopausal Venus of Willendorf appeared daily in our mirrors. It was difficult to smile back at the unlovely sight -- a sight that we had been conditioned to believe was ugly and unlovable. Everybody said so -- especially the men.

The gentlemen who would not say so with their mouths, did so with their eyes which were quickly averted to avoid the unsightly image of a middle-aged Venus and her pendulosity. No one cared that Venus gave up her youth to give life. Never mind that she used her breasts as they were intended, not as playthings. Never mind.

But then a 53-year-old woman weighing 150 pounds and who had given birth to three children went into space. There she stayed for a whopping 188 days -- longer than anyone. Shannon Lucid is a heroine -- a role model that we have so longed for. A woman who pointed to the stars -- and then made a map to get there. For her; for us.

My grandchildren now are small. I will not encourage the girls to play with Barbie dolls nor will I try to convince them that they need to look like a piece of molded plastic to feel worthy of love. I hope to instill in them a more conscious desire to awaken the beauty within them. I hope to offer them dreams of being lucid -- like Shannon. And I know that then, they will live happily ever after.

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