The world’s most famous doll is celebrating her 55th birthday, today. Barbie debuted in 1959 and has since amassed a following like no other. It’s estimated that there are over 100,000 Barbie collectors in the world. “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices,” creator Ruth Handler once said of the doll. Despite the best intentions, Mattel (and Barbie) has come under fire for promoting an unhealthy body image to young girls. Her impossible figure and perfect life have been a target for many artists who have subverted the Barbie norms to explore its absurdity and question feminine ideals.
The sickly sweet palette of Peihang Huang’s Barbie oil paintings take on a morbid tone once you realize that many of the dolls are battered and even dead (in the series Floral Funeral). Huang feels dolls are “the perfect figure to project human behaviors and philosophies.”
Conceptual photographer Dina Goldstein pulls back the curtain on the Barbie Dreamhouse. Her previous project, Fallen Princesses, placed iconic pop culture princesses in modern-day situations that found them facing poverty, cancer, and obesity. In the Dollhouse also toys with notions of femininity, revealing the struggles and complexities of romantic partnership.
Two unashamed, nude Barbies frolicking on a beach created quite a controversy with Mattel. The Sports Illustrated-style calendar is the work of then students Breno Cosa and Guillherme Souza who claim to be part of the Matchbox trademark owned by Mattel — which isn’t true.
We recently told you about the work of photographer Sheila Pree Bright, who examines female racial identity in her Plastic Bodies series. She blends human and doll features as a statement on ethnic and cultural assimilation.
E.V. Day’s mummified dolls shroud Barbie’s impossible measurements. From the artist:
The Mummified Barbies acknowledge Barbie as an icon, as idealized and exaggerated as any mythological depiction of Venus or Aphrodite. By concealing the attributes and accessories that characterize her image, I aim to locate Barbie in a long history of glamorized feminine figures. Wrapping and silencing this vivacious action figure into a phallic totem, we have a chance to see her more objectively. Mummifying and shrouding Barbie literally ties her to ancient and ongoing cultural practices of fetishizing the female form.
The surreal Barbie artworks of Ewelina Koszykowski place the doll in nightmarish situations — because nothing says terrifying more than waking up and seeing a gaggle of nude Barbies and their stiff limbs dancing in the dark.
The jaded, dark side of Barbie’s life is a favorite subject for photographers. Sarah Haney’s work places the doll in real-life settings and precarious situations. “As an adult, thinking about that fixed expression of pleasure made me start to think about what she might be hiding behind the façade of perfection — after all, how great could life really be for a woman who clearly has an eating disorder, an addiction to plastic surgery, and nothing between her ears?” Haney writes of the iconic doll.
Beatrice Morabito’s provocative photos of Barbie’s sex life find the doll bound and gagged, corseted, and exploring relationships with other women. The erotic images are styled like high-fashioned photo shoots. The artist sees her work as snapshots from a “secret diary.”
Outrageous performer Jeffree Star in a transgressive portrait of a murderous Barbie. Perfection.