We’ve known for a while that Barbie’s body is impossibly petite. Her slender figure and absurdly small waist don’t leave enough room for her internal organs, and her tiny ankles and feet would actually force her to move around on all fours. Still, the Mattel icon remains a standard of beauty for many young girls — sometimes with damaging results. When we spotted an art project inspired by Barbie’s cruel measurements, which we feature past the break, we felt compelled to round up other artworks that challenge the status quo surrounding female body image. Some of these works confront and criticize the twisted ideologies, while others show solidarity in the struggle for more body-positive representations of women.
Pittsburgh artist Nickolay Lamm recreated Mattel’s iconic doll using the proportions of the average 19-year-old woman, as reported by the CDC. (You can dig into some of those stats if you’re curious.) “I created normal Barbie because I wanted to show that average is beautiful,” Lamm told Today. “If average-looking Barbie looks this good, and if there’s even a chance of Barbie negatively influencing young girls, why not make one?”
Also exposing problematic beauty standards using Barbie dolls is photographer Sheila Pree Bright, who explores the complexities of racial identity in her work. In her Plastic Bodies series, which developed in 2003, Bright contrasts fragmented bodies of multicultural women with the dolls. The blend of human and artificial features is unsettling and helps make the “global assimilation of cultures, ethnicities, and loss of personal identity many women of color experience as a result” painfully obvious.
New York City artist Aleah Chapin’s Aunties Project reveals a diverse palette of bodies — aging, fragile, and all beautiful. The artist painted women she has known since birth, examining her personal history through the people she shares her life with. “On our bodies is left a map of our journey through life,” she writes on her website. The works are a poetic and honest exploration of flesh, emotion, and connection.
Jenny Saville on her contemporary nudes:
“I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies, those that emulate contemporary life, they’re what I find most interesting.”
This photo series featuring Nancy Upton, shot by Dallas-based photographer Shannon Skloss, was born from a contest submission to American Apparel. The company was seeking “booty-ful” women for a modeling contract. Offended by the language used in the ad, Upton challenged the company’s ideals by submitting photos of herself bathing in ranch dressing, defiantly gnawing wings, and posing like a pig on a spit. Customers voted her to the winning spot, but the company denied her a contract as promised. After AA extended an olive branch and invited Upton to visit their corporate headquarters, things didn’t end well, but the photos remain a symbol of victory. “American Apparel was going to try to use one fat girl as a symbol of apology and acceptance to a demographic it had long insisted on ignoring, while simultaneously having that girl (and a thousand other girls) shill their products,” Upton wrote of the viral photos.
Israeli-American photographer Elinor Carucci revealed the poignant and unflinching details of her pregnancy in a recent photo series about the vulnerabilities of flesh.
The authentic, vulnerable, and proud female figures of Dorien Plaat.
David Jay’s candid photo series about breast cancer, The Scar Project , captures the strength and beauty of women in these post-mastectomy portraits.
Mickalene Thomas’ depictions of African-American women push the boundaries of beauty and sexuality, creating new symbols of femininity and power — as evidenced in this photo referencing Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.
For her 27th birthday, Canadian video artist Lisa Steele chronicled every scar on her body, recounting the stories behind each blemish. The narrative “downplays the representation of the body as a gendered subject,” but also “provides an important counter-image to the emergent critique of the female body in narrative cinema.” You can watch the 13-minute video over here.