Growing up, I loved my Barbies. Barbie and her long blonde hair, big boobs, tiny waist and legs that went on for days. Good ol’ Barbie. Then, of course, her boyfriend Ken. Head of thick blond hair, abs of steel, constant smile on his face and always looking sharp in his outfits. Those were the days….however, this is not the Barbie that I met in real life.
In my 20s, I worked at a hotel that hosted the celebrity big wigs when they came to town. It was the hot hotel in Minneapolis at that time. I was the Chief Concierge and a concierge of French tradition, getting tickets for sold-out shows and dinner reservations at booked restaurants for guests. It was a fun job, and I met a lot of interesting people.
Each year, Dr. Maya Angelou stayed at our property when she came in to speak at the Martin Luther King tribute. I really didn’t have a clue who Maya Angelou was (this was before Google). I did have inklings that she was a wise and respected woman, but I had never read her books. Upon her arrival, I was instructed to ensure that Dr. Angelou received a warm welcome and that all of her needs were taken care of.
I remember the big, warm smile on her face when she came into the hotel. She struck me as lovely. The team got her checked in, and the bellman led her down to her room. I was going to wait a half hour to let her get settled in before checking on her.
I was approaching the end of my shift and getting antsy to hit the road. It was snowing, so I wanted to get the long commute over with and snuggle into my apartment.
Ten minutes before my shift was over, I knocked on Maya’s door and asked, “Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?” She invited me to come in and sit down. The minute I stepped into her room, I knew I was breaking Rule #1: Don’t enter a guest’s room. I also wasn’t supposed to make myself comfortable in her room or have anything to eat or drink with her (strikes two and three!).
I was in a pickle. I remember thinking, “What the hell is going on? Why is she being so kind to me? It’s supposed to be the other way around.” She proceeded to ask me a few questions about myself, during which I was thinking, “I need to get out of here! I feel uncomfortable! I don’t like this attention on me.” She was in absolutely no rush to get through our conversation. I think I could have stayed an hour, had I not excused myself. Who knows, she may have wanted to invite me to stay for dinner, too.
As time went on, I learned quickly what an extraordinary woman Maya was. I regret that I didn’t appreciate the time I spent with her. She was so gracious, and all I kept thinking was, “I want to leave.” I regret that, but I also realize that I didn’t have the maturity or life experience at the time to really understand the opportunity that had been presented to me. Perhaps if I had known a bit more about her, it would have been different.
When I read the announcement last week that there is a Maya Angelou Barbie, I was beyond thrilled. Then I got to thinking, “How would my life have been reshaped had I had a Barbie like Maya growing up? A Barbie celebrated for her inner and outer beauty? A role model who was smart, a celebrated writer, activist, teacher and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient? A Barbie whose body looked more like that of the average woman than blonde Barbie’s did? How cool would that have been?”
Progress is being made in the toy industry for girls. We’re starting to see a broader offering of female role models than your typical princesses; however, we still have a long way to go. Moms, grandmas, aunts — please treat the young girls in your life to a Maya Barbie or another Barbie from the Inspiring Women™ series. Let’s raise our girls with the knowledge that their lives are limitless and that they, too, can be a Dr. Maya Angelou, a Billie Jean King, Ella Fitzgerald or Florence Nightingale someday! The influences presented to them are invaluable as they age and develop their inner selves. And, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what age we are, we always need to raise up all women.