She has been a teacher, instructor, pilot, photographer, rapper, producer, chef, United States President… and recently it turns out she has a middle and a last name: Barbara Millicent “Barbie” Roberts.
Manufactured and launched in March 1959, by the American toy company Mattel Inc. — American businesswoman Ruth Handler is credited with the creation of the doll using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration —, Barbie has been an important part of the toy fashion doll market for over fifty years, and has been the subject of numerous controversies and lawsuits — as in the case of Frida Kahlo doll’s dispute or Greenpeace campaign against the use of mixed tropical hardwood —, often involving parodies of the doll and her lifestyle.
In 2018, Barbie celebrated International Women’s Day, by giving female role models their own “Shero” and “Inspirational Women” dolls — contributions made by pilot Amelia Earhart, artist Frida Kahlo, and mathematician Katherine Johnson, who was the subject of the film Hidden Figures. The brand said they chose to highlight these women because it’s important for young girls to see successful women who look like them.
From a different angle, however, it seems that for too long young girls has had as a role model Barbie Dolls and researches shows that Barbie may lead to heightened body dissatisfaction, unhealthy eating behaviour, and a desire to eat less in order to achieve a slim body — “Barbie syndrome” is a term that has been used to depict the desire to have a physical appearance and lifestyle representative of the Barbie doll. In 2012, images of a human Barbie washed over the Internet, disturbing people through her doll forms and make-up. She was Valeria Lukyanova, a model and entertainer from Russia.
Along the “syndrome” line of reasoning, different interesting experiments came from creative minds and artists like Nickolay Lamm, who created a “normal” Barbie using the CDC’s measurements for an average 19-year-old American woman, then photographed a standard Barbie doll next to his model to show the difference. According to him, he created normal Barbie because he just wanted to show that average is beautiful: “if average-looking Barbie looks this good and if there’s even a chance of Barbie negatively influencing young girls, why not make one?”
The same seems to apply to Mariel Clayton and her black and dissolute Psycho Barbie, Annelies Hofmeyr and her Trophy Wife Barbie project — started on the day of her divorce and documenting her journey of self-discovery —, Lauren Nieburg’s Barbie in Compromising Positions photo series, Breno Cosa and Guilherme Souza duo’s The Matchbox Barbie calendar, or Darby Cisneros and her Socality Barbie project, who initially wished to remain anonymous so to preserve the Instagram account’s hipster authenticity.
On the other hand we have designer Jeremy Scott with his 2014 Barbie Collection for Moschino — To fit in one of the Barbie outfits you have to be size 0! — and 1997 Barbie Girl song by the Danish-Norwegian dance-pop group Aqua — “one of those inexplicable pop culture phenomena” and “insanely catchy”, according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic.