Thursday, March 8, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Barbie

In 1959, when the Barbie doll was first introduced onto the market by Ruth Handler, more than 350,000 units were sold and since then an estimated that over 1 billion dolls have been sold. She has survived a range of assaults, including the firing of Ruth Handler from the company in 1971 and backlash from feminists and women's rights advocates. Robin Swicord, an author and screenwriter, said "In countries where they don’t even sell makeup or have anything like our dating rituals, they play with Barbie. Barbie embodies not a cultural view of femininity, but the essence of woman” (qtd. in Lord 80). 

Barbie was a respectable version of the Lilli doll in Germany. Lilli was "a German doxie - an ice-blond, pixie-nosed specimen of an Aryan ideal" that was popular among German men who often placed her on the dashboards of their car or gave the doll as a gift to their girlfriends (Lord 8). Handler recast Lilli as a wholesome all-American girl and marketed the doll to young girls. The rest is the stuff of marketing legend.

Barbie has been characterized as "a space-age fertility symbol: a narrow-hipped mother goddess for the epoch of casarean sections" (Lord 75) and a scaling up of her hour glass proportions suggest that she would be unnaturally slender. According to Professor Janet Treasure, an expert on body size and image at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, "Barbie's body shape and proportions are among the many things that play up to this 'thin ideal' which is ubiquitous these days. The promotion of dolls with such a body shape, and other things like size zero, have wider public health implications, like an increased risk of eating disorders." (Qtd. in BBC News On-line Magazine 2009)
Barbie by Jocelyn Grivauld
Nevertheless, the "mythic resonance of her form" and her longevity has made Barbie into an icon of popular culture (Lord 6). She has served as inspiration for a wide variety of artists including painters like Andy Warhol and Grace Hartigan, mixed media artists like Maggie Robbins (who hammers hundreds of nails into Barbies) and photographers like Barry Sturgill, Susan Evans Grove, Felicia Rosshandler, Dean Brown,  David Levinthal and Jocelyn Grivauld (who has "appropriated" the style of Dean Brown in depicting Barbie in iconic art references).

There is something about Barbie that I can relate to. Perhaps her embodiment of "perfection" is at the root of it, because those who know me well, know that I am haunted by the unattainable standard of  perfection. I can also relate to her German roots as well as the hostility that her petite frame engenders. In seeking out a doll double for my creative project, I would have to say that Barbie might be the one, although I'd definitely need to dress her in a more geeky, academic type of look.

Lord, M. G. Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. 1st ed. New York: Avon Books, 1994.

Skariachan, Dhanya. Mattel profit tops estimates, sales miss. Reuters in Globe and Mail. On-line Published Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, Accessed February 29, 2012 Link: 

Van der Broek, Anna. Barbie Inspired Art. Forbes Magazine Published March 5, 2009. Accessed February 29, 2012. 

Winterman, Denise. What would a real life Barbie look like? BBC News Magazine. Tuesday, March 9, 2009. On-line. Accessed February 29, 2012. Link:

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