AARP Magazine – How Barbie Is Keeping Me Sane

aarp grand gets real barbie

How Barbie Is Keeping Me Sane.  Instagrammer Tonya Ruiz turn familiar toy into Sly Social Commentary.

As a teenager, I actually followed in Barbie’s footsteps and became a fashion model. Teen magazine did a story on me about moving to Paris at age 16. I was glamorous! But then I got married and did the white-picket fence thing in suburbia. After I quit modeling and had my kids, I spoke out about raising children to have a better body image. Because Barbies could be so unrealistic, I used them as props for my presentations. But when the kids grew up, all those dolls went into a box in the attic.

About three years ago, my grandkids found the Barbies and asked, “Can we play with them?” That’s when this whole thing started. We made an Instagram account and posted pictures of the Barbies doing normal-people things like washing dishes or doing the laundry.

Then came the coronavirus. With more time on my hands, I started reimagining the Barbies as people going through the pandemic. The first lockdown Barbie I posted was eating her way through quarantine. She had Twinkies and Dunkin’ Donuts and a large jar of Nutella and was wearing stretchy pants. It was my way of saying, This is what I’m doing to get through. My husband was baking all the time, so I created a bread-baking Barbie, who had flour everywhere and a mixer. I made a “Zoom Ken” with a tiny computer, coffee cup and a couple of kids who kept interrupting him. The most popular one I’ve done has been “What Time Is It? Barbie.” She represents all of us worried insomniacs: dark circles under her eyes, daytime pajamas, an espresso machine, a box of Crunch ’n Munch.

What have I learned from all this? Well, first, I think it’s a hoot you can make such a big impact taking pictures at your kitchen table. I have over 80,000 followers on Instagram, over 30,000 on Facebook, and I recently had 2.5 million views on something I posted on TikTok. Kelly Clarkson had me on her show. But I guess the bigger lesson is, never stop being creative. Making these quarantine Barbies might sound like a small thing, but the reaction has been so positive. People say, “Thanks for making me smile,” or “Thanks for adding joy to this difficult time.”

Barbie Photographer


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