Tag: Barbie

Antithesis to Barbie: Toys for Little Homemakers



Chloe Kim as a Barbie doll Barbie.com

Just last month, Chloe Kim became the youngest gold medal winner in Olympic women’s snowboarding history at 17 years old. She won first place in the women’s halfpipe event and brought the gold medal from PyeongChang home to the United States.  This achievement was apparently significant enough to raise her status to Barbie-worthy. Kim is now featured as part of the Role Models line of Barbie dolls, alongside other female professionals like conservationist Bindi Irwin, model and body activist Ashley Graham, and historic aviator Amelia Earhart.[1] In bold pink letters on the Role Models page at barbie.mattel.com, one can read the statement “Imagining she can be anything is just the beginning. Actually seeing that she can makes all the difference.” The idea that Barbie can show young girls all they can possibly become is nothing new. Barbie has always set out to teach girls “independence” and “all that [they] could be.”[2] It was a major point for Mattel that the Barbie doll did not “teach [girls] to nurture”[3] or do housework, but rather to pursue careers outside the home and become strong women. But why was there a need or want for a toy to teach children this lesson? Well, that’s because many other toys girls were playing with were painting a much different picture of women’s place in society.

Sears ad, 1965. theatlantic.com

Many a childhood, especially those of the female population, included toys like kitchenware, vacuums, baby dolls and the like. I, for one, played house many times in my day. For nearly a century, toys that simulate or depict domestic chores and housekeeping items, the “rough housework”[4] Barbie didn’t do, have been marketed to American girls. For example, an article by Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist, wrote an article for The Atlantic that highlights Sears ads from 1925 and 1965 that market domestic tools like brooms and sewing machines and cookware, claiming, “Every little girl likes to play house, to sweep, and to do mother’s work for her.”[5] These types of toys worked to make a young girl into a “little homemaker”[6] rather than “to inspire the limitless potential in every girl” as Mattel claims to do with Barbie.[7]

Betsy Wetsy by Ideal, https://www.flickr.com/photos/wardomatic/2119683684/

Similar to the way toys that simulate housework convey the expectation that women are intended for taking care of the home, babydolls portray the expectation of a woman as also taking care of children. Take the Betsy Wetsy doll by Ideal that M. G. Lord refers to as “clinging, dependent.”[8] One television commercial for Betsy Wetsy opens with a little girl thinking to herself, “When I grow up, I want to be a mommy.” Luckily for her, she “can play mommy right now, with Ideal’s Betsy Wetsy.”[9] This advertisement clearly states that the ideal life a little girl should imagine for herself is that of a mother. With countless other babydolls filling toy store shelves, Betsy Wetsy was only a small piece of this expectation-setting. With the way domestic toys and babydolls portrayed the capabilities and goals of women, it is easy to see where Barbie could swoop in and be the more ambitious alternative.

I certainly fell into the idea of “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys” growing up. But growing up with a little sister meant pulling my weight in the playhouse and leaving time for the Power Rangers and Polly Pocket to have a picnic after saving the world. It is only now at 21 years old that I have really tried to understand what some of our toys could represent or teach us. Looking at toy vacuums and babydolls as potentially at odds with Barbie dolls instead of all under the umbrella of “girls’ toys” is a new critical lens that I don’t think I could now ignore if I tried. For what it’s worth, my sister, who played with all of these types of toys, is now an aspiring artist that cooks and cleans for herself and does not dote on any freeloading men.

[1] https://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/role-models.html (also follow this link for first Barbie Role Models image)

[2] M. G. Lord, Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll (Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, 2004), 9.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 10.

[5] Sweet, Elizabeth. “Toys Are More Divided by Gender Now Than They Were 50 Years Ago.” The Atlantic. December 09, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/12/toys-are-more-divided-by-gender-now-than-they-were-50-years-ago/383556/. (also see this source for first Sears ad, 1925)

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/about-barbie.html

[8] M. G. Lord, Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll (Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, 2004), 9.

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R9iUdk3EYs


In the Dollhouse: Subversive Barbie (and Gay Ken) by Morgan O’Donnell

Barbie is perhaps the most complex and most discussed children’s toy in American history. The doll’s social and cultural symbolism has been endlessly picked apart since Mattel first introduced Barbie in 1959. Pearson and Mullins write that Mattel has tried to “structure the meaning of Barbie in very distinct ways which reproduce particular versions of domesticity” [1] through her careers and housework, clothing, and accessories in various reproductions of the doll throughout history.

Her relationship status also plays into the image of domesticity she presents. Barbie was originally a young, single professional until Mattel gave into intense consumer demand and created Ken in 1961 as a “subservient male doll” with the sole purpose of being Barbie’s escort [2]. Throughout the Sixties Ken’s wardrobe, career options, and overall role in the Barbie world expanded; simultaneously, Barbie’s domesticity increased and she was placed in more subordinate labor positions while Ken’s activities displayed his influence over and masculine independence from Barbie [3].

In my mind I relate the gender dynamics in Barbie and Ken’s relationship, as analyzed by Pearson and Mullins, to the (utterly disgusting and sexist) phrase “a woman’s place is in the home/kitchen.” One clear function of Barbie is the message she conveys about how society views women, and based on her track record, one could say that a dominant message is that women should beautify themselves, take care of housework, and do other forms of labor in service to men. Photographer Dina Goldstein presented a subversive take on Barbie and Ken’s picture perfect home life with her 2012 photographic series In the Dollhouse

Goldstein employed two actors to portray incredibly doll-like, life-sized versions of Barbie and Ken. The story takes place within the pink walls of the couple’s dollhouse and follows them as Ken, “who has been trapped in an imposed marriage for over three decades,” [4] discovers his gay sexuality, while Barbie’s gradual insecurity over it turns into a mental breakdown that ends with her cutting off all her hair in a last-ditch effort to be what he wants.

In an interview for The Huffington Post in 2013, Goldstein said that she drew inspiration for the project from observing her two daughters role-play with the dolls. She personally sees Barbie as representative of “the concept that Beauty is Power and necessary to attain happiness” and to attract a partner. But when Ken expresses his individuality as a gay man, the value of beauty is stripped away and nothing Barbie is or does can make him stay. [5] I find In the Dollhouse to be a genius subversion of Barbie’s symbolism. Not only does it toy with the longtime allusion to her beloved boyfriend being gay (Earring Magic Ken, anyone?), but it is also a play on the concepts of domesticity and nurturing that have been such a central part of the Barbie myth — and the female myth.

Traditional gender roles place pressure on women to be the ideal homemakers and girlfriends or wives for the sake of the men’s satisfaction and benefit. In Goldstein’s photo series, Barbie does everything right, from keeping up an outer appearance of beauty to cooking dinner for Ken, only to fail and lose him…in the end she is left with nothing but an empty facade of the life she thought she knew, the life she spent trying to satisfy Ken.

To me, this ties in well with the correlation between the Ken doll’s growing roles and Barbie’s limiting roles during the Sixties. With Mattel’s introduction of Ken and his soaring popularity over the years, Barbie, who was once the star of her own show, was reduced to the nurturing, submissive girlfriend in certain scenarios and iterations.

Women bear the physical and emotional labor of creating and maintaining a perfect world in the home and in their relationships, and Goldstein’s Barbie photo series goes where Mattel won’t dare to: it shows the foolish nature of these expectations and the reality that is waiting to be exposed.

  1. Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.” 228-29. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3, no. 4 (December 1999). http://www.jstor.org/stable/20852937.
  2. Ibid, 236.
  3. Ibid, 240.
  4. “In The Dollhouse.” Dina Goldstein. https://www.dinagoldstein.com/in-the-dollhouse/.
  5. Rudolph, Christopher. “Dina Goldstein, Photographer, Shares ‘In The Dollhouse,’ Barbie Discovering Ken’s Gay Affair (PHOTOS).” The Huffington Post. May 16, 2013. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/16/dina-goldstein-in-the-dollhouse-barbie-ken-gay_n_3279824.html.

Body Image Barbie: Doing More Harm than Good? by Keira C. Wingert

It seems like the only times I hear about Barbie anymore are in conversations about her body.

We’ve all heard the statistics that claim that Barbie, if she were a real person, would be six feet tall, weigh 100 pounds, and have the hips of a prepubescent boy (Olson, par. 1). Often, people will use these statistics against the Barbie brand as a way of blaming the doll for the prevalence of unhealthy body consciousness among girls and young women. In fact, competitors have been introduced to the market to address this issue, such as the Lammily doll, a Barbie rival proportionate to the body of an average 19-year-old woman. When the concept for the doll was introduced in 2014, it garnered the attention of many adult women, who loved the idea of an average-looking doll whose accessories include acne, scars, and cellulite (yes, really!).barbieombre

In January of this year, perhaps as a response to the Lammily doll’s release and the subsequent backlash against the Barbie brand, Mattel released a new line of Barbies that made headlines and sparked a huge conversation among the doll’s fans amd critics alike. This new line of Barbies features dolls with petite, curvy, and tall bodies—a revolutionary move for a brand that has featured only one (inhuman) body type since its conception in 1959 (Pearson & Mullins, 230).

One might think that the introduction of this line of dolls would be the be-all and end-all of conversations over Barbie’s body, but in reality, it may do more harm than good. The new curvy Barbie doll doesn’t fit into the clothes of the petite, tall, and classic Barbie dolls, which begs the question:  when two little girls are playing with their dolls together, what will bring more awareness to the doll’s body type than the realization that a curvy Barbie doll cannot wear the same clothes as a petite one?


Perhaps by giving Barbie three new looks, we could be diminishing children’s self-confidence rather than boosting it. In constantly turning the conversation to Barbie’s body rather than the wealth of careers, friends, and achievements her character seems to have, we are, in turn, sending the message to young girls that a woman’s body is more important than her personality or accomplishments. According to unofficial Barbie “biographer” M.G. Lord, Barbie is a toy “designed by women for women to teach women what—for better or worse—is expected of them by society” (Lord, 8). (Interestingly enough, artist Nickolay Lamm, a man, created the Lammily doll). Barbie can be a doctor, an artist, a surfer, a teacher, a babysitter, and more, and yet all anyone seems to care about is how she looks. In only focusing on her body, we are making it clear to little girls what is expected of them by society.

This is not to say that representing body diversity is unimportant or harmful, but why should we needlessly make children more frustratingly aware of the differences between women’s bodies when they themselves are hardly aware of their own bodies? Barbie isn’t the one telling girls to focus on their bodies from a young age; we are. If we want that to change, we have to stop turning the conversation toward Barbie’s measurements and instead focus on how Barbie can inspire girls to strive for something other than aesthetic beauty.


Lord, M.G. Forever Barbie:  The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. New York:  Morrow, 1994. Print.

Olsen, Samantha. “Why Are Barbie’s Body Measurements So Unrealistic? Little Girls Aren’t Buying It.” Medical Daily. IBT Media Inc., 31 Dec. 2014. 23 Mar. 2016.

Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie:  An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3.4 (1999): p. 225-259. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Shriver, Lionel. “Sorry Lammily, Your Dumpy Looks Won’t Fool Many Little Girls.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Barbie: Fashion Model or Role Model? by Christy Weaver

From Barbie’s first appearance on store shelves in 1959, her “chief association was with high fashion” (Pearson & Mullins, 230). Creator Ruth Handler ensured that her original fashion choices were inspired by “Paris fashion shows” (230) and epitomized modern style. Evidently, Barbie was concerned with image from the outset, embodying a marketable version of beauty and culture with every subsequent version of herself. According to archaeologists Marlys Pearson and Paul Mulllins, “Barbie never was designed to be a cipher that could accommodate a vast range of social possibilities or experiences” (256). She was more like a piece of art which produced a clear-cut vision of middle-class womanhood, aiming to achieve mass social appeal.


If we think of Barbie in this way, her cultural missteps become a little easier to bear. For instance, during the late 1960s, Mattel, Inc. made certain that Barbie was absent from any counter-cultural protest or drug-ridden commune. Instead she was busy enjoying “Lunch on the Terrace,” (1966) or a “Music Center Matinee” (1966) (Pearson & Mullins, 244). Although commentators have criticized this era of Barbie for glossing over important historical moments, the doll’s core mission wasn’t to comment on cultural turmoil; it was to be a toy, a beautiful, fashion-forward, profitable toy. The ideas embedded in counter-culture were inherently radical, and Barbie’s brand needed to appeal to a mainstream audience.

A more modern example of Mattel’s questionable Barbie releases was its “Great Eras Collection,” which appeared on shelves from 1993 to 1997 (Milnor 215). The series depicted Barbie as versions of prominent women throughout world history, including Egyptian Queen Barbie and Chinese Empress Barbie (215). Egyptian Queen Barbie wears an “intricately detailed golden headdress with turquoise beading reflect[ing] that she is indeed Egyptian royalty” (“The Great Eras Collection”). Her dress is bold, bright blue, and shiny; again, fashion is a main concern for the doll. Chinese Empress Barbie is equally as stunning. Her costume is highly detailed, featuring faux jade beads and dragon stitchings. On Barbie’s website, Empress Barbie is described as capturing “… the authentic look and feel of the Qing dynasty” (“The Great Eras Collection”). Each of these versions offers a prime example of Mattel concerning itself mostly with Barbie’s looks. In each doll’s description, Barbie’s clothes are the only thing discussed. Her actual historical role is absent entirely, underscoring the argument that Barbie is, in reality, not a teaching tool; she is an attractive commodity.2

In its most recent campaign, however, Mattel has allowed Barbie to encourage her consumers with the mantra “You can be anything” (“You Can Be Anything”). Ads feature young girls filling in the “you can be” blank with words like “President,” “Doctor,” “Ballerina,” and “Game Developer” (“You Can Be Anything”). Although Mattel has encouraged young girls to use Barbie as a tool for personal growth and imagination in the past, this campaign actively promotes the idea that young girls can look to Barbie to show them what’s possible. Barbie now embodies virtually anything, so you can too. This evidence contradicts the notion that Barbie is purely a pretty face to be bought and sold. This campaign, likely demanded by a feminist turn in the toy market, may complicate things for Mattel. Now that Barbie is an active role model, rather than just a fashion model, Mattel will need to be even more careful about what its brand promotes.


Milnor, Kristina. “Barbie as Grecian Goddess and Egyptian Queen: Ancient Women’s History by Mattel.” Helios 32.2 (2005): 215. JSTOR. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.”International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3.4 (1999): 225-59. Web.

“The Great Eras® Collection.” The Great Eras® Collection. Barbie.com. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. “You Can Be Anything.” Barbie.com. Mattel, Inc. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

When Icons Collide: Barbie’s Bountiful Meanings by Samantha Smyth

BetsyWhen Mattel released Barbie in 1959 they hardly could have known the plastic doll’s impact. She was revolutionary, she was a career woman who had no man, she was modelled after a buxom German blonde pin-up, and she was now decidedly America. As Pearson and Mullins point out: “Unlike the mass of baby dolls populating toy stores, Barbie was an “adult” doll marketed in a box illustrated with designer fashion sketches of Barbie outfits [. . .]. Barbie’s stylish consumption, idealized labor discipline (i.e., in her modeling “career”), and clean-cut middle-class values found a mass of eager consumers among girls and their parents alike” (230). Barbie’s clean-cut values have ensured her survivability, but also adaptability through the decades.

To go back to Martin Kemp’s ideas on what makes an icons: “An iconic image Libertyis one that has achieved wholly exceptional levels of widespread recognizability and has come to carry a rich series of varied associations for very large numbers of people across time and cultures, such that it has to a greater or lesser degree transgressed the parameters of its initial making, function, context, and meaning (3). Barbie’s recognizability draws people in, whether to critique her or love her. Her varied associations allows for varying interpretations for whoever gazes upon her hard plastic shell.

Since 2002, there has been a group in San Francisco dedicated to Barbie and her image. They deal primarily in altered Barbie. Journalist Chris Cadelago writes of the altered Barbie art show: “At the center of this burgeoning summer institution is Barbie, a kind of three-dimensional blank canvas that allows artists to display their reverence, humor or biting satire. Barbie is used to create stories about contemporary culture, and also used as a yardstick to measure American progress” (SFGate). Because of her blank canvas, Barbie has vaulted so far beyond her initial inception of fashion-maven for young girls to admire in the United States of the ‘50s.

She’s now been mashed together with other worldly icons to create a sort of icon-chimera-hybrid, a super icon (if you want to think like that).

Mattel has certainly capitalized on Barbie’s adaptability. Using blank canvas Barbie as inspiration, here are some of Barbie’s mashed iconic iterations using our classes’ syllabus as the framework:


Released in 1997, Patriot Barbie and Colonial Barbie are the closest we get to a Betsy Ross figure. The Barbie Collection describes Patriot Barbie as: “Lovely Patriot Barbie® doll brings us back to revolutionary times in her elegant gown and navy military jacket. She wears a navy tricorner hat with a feather and carries a golden liberty bell.” So here we have both the Revolution and another one of our classes’ icons, the Liberty Bell, being memorialized by Barbie herself. BarbieColonial Barbie comes with a “framed” embroidery with an eagle design on it! She also has a book discussing the new nation of 1776. Perhaps this book mentions Betsy’s flag.


Frontier Barbie poses an issue because the Frontier itself is vast, both metaphorically and in actuality. Do we look for Cowboy Barbie? There are countless versions, including an entire collection known as the “Western Fun!” collection. How about Native American Barbie? As Maureen Trudelle Schwarz points out there is many versions of this Barbie, all with their own degree of Cowgirldifficult interpretation and misinterpreted and presented backstories. See above Princess of Navajo Barbie and Way Out West Barbie.


Dorothy was deemed worthy of study in our own class. We had discussed perhaps the ruby red slippers were the iconic image from the Oz world, and Barbie comes equipped with them. In fact, Disney has released multiple versions of the Dorothy doll, all with the slippers, and interestingly Toto as well. For the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, Mattel released an entire series of Oz-inspired dolls commemorating the event. Pictured abovDorothye is the 75th Anniversary Wizard of Oz Dorothy Barbie modelled after Judy Garland.

Interestingly, none of Barbie’s official Disney versions are featured on the Barbie Collection website. This is because Mattel has recently lost its exclusive Disney contract to Hasbro due failing sales and inability to do justice to Disney’s princess brand image (Bloomberg.com). However, a cursory Google search can bring up hundreds of hits for Barbie and Mickey being used together including 25th anniversary collector’s editions and a Disney Fun! series with Ken.Mickey

Barbie, the ultimate canvas. Her ability to portray anything the designer wants allows her to transcend her original purpose of fashion-doll. My definition of an icon included the addendum of “not without their contradictions,” and Barbie certainly fits this as well. However, her image continues to change and resonate. Her appeal allows her to fit any mold, even though she’s made of hard plastic. Her chameleon-like capability to change to support her surroundings ensures Barbie’s longevity and iconicity.


Images: Pinterest






Martin Kemp, Christ to Coke, 3.

Marlys Pearson and Paul R. Mullin, “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology,” 230.

Does the Barbie of the Past Represent the Barbie of Today? by William Kowalik

Thinking about Barbie for most people would conjure up the image of a ridiculously slender and un-proportional fashionable doll that lives in a pink mansion, drives a pink car and can do anything! Barbie as a children’s toy for girls (and boys) could be seen as a heroic inspirational figure that can inspire kids to do whatever they set their minds to. President Barbie? You can be President too! Perhaps Barbie…if she were real would be the most multitalented person, trying her hand at every career imaginable…or simply indecisive. Maybe she just hasn’t found the right one yet. That’s up for you to decide.

Barbie started off as a fashionable, independent career woman. Her relationship with domesticity has fluctuated with the changing tastes of the times over her fifty-seven year life (Pearson and Mullins 229). Although earlier on “Handler turned down a vacuum company’s offer to make a Barbie sized vacuum because Barbie didn’t do what Charlotte Johnson termed ‘rough housework’” (Lord 10). As the tumultuous Sixties pushed forward, the image of Barbie as an independent career woman changed to become more like Barbie the housewife. Ken, her boyfriend/husband/male-counterpart arrived on the scene at this time. M.G. Lord says of the original Barbie, “Barbie taught girls what was expected of women, and women in the fifties would have been a failure without a male consort” (Lord 11). By the late 1960’s Barbie began to return to work outside the home. In 1973, Barbie as a career woman returned, although quite clearly subservient to make coworkers and bosses, as evidenced by “Barbie the Stewardess” and “Ken the Pilot” (Pearson and Mullins 249).

Could one argue that the Barbie “brand” of today is so different today than when she was created? While I’m sure a convincing argument in favor of that could be made, Barbie in 1959 and Barbie in 2016 present a very similar idea, young women can do what they want with their lives and proudly and confidently do so. Putting aside the problematic nature of body image that Barbie has traditionally presented, it seems that she is a good role model, encouraging positive play that stimulates imagination and possibilities. The Barbie website appropriately sums up this vision well: “With more than 150 careers on her resume– from registered nurse to rock star, veterinarian to aerobics instructor, pilot to police officer– Barbie continues to take on aspirational and culturally relevant roles while also serving as a role model and agent of change for girls. She first broke the “plastic ceiling” in the 1960s when, as an astronaut, she went to the moon… four years before Neil Armstrong. In the 1980s she took to the boardroom as “Day to Night” CEO Barbie, just as women began to break into the C-suite. And in the 1990s, she ran for President, before any female candidate ever made it onto the presidential ballot” (“Barbie Careers”). Although the need for pushing this might seem irrelevant today when so many women do work, it is the image of “What’s Cookin? And “Leisure Hours” Barbie that seems irrelevant (Pearson and Mullins 238). Particularly in STEM fields, men still greatly outnumber women. This still leaves the opportunity for Barbie to continue to be a role model. “”Well before 1963, when Betty Friedan defined the ‘problem that has no name,’ a significant number of women were defying the Feminine Mystique and forging a place for themselves in the male-dominated workforce. Barbie was created in the image of these women…Consequently, the doll had revolutionary from the outset by even tacitly acknowledging women’s and power in a wide range of settings” (Pearson and Mullins 256).

Barbie has always been a sign of the times. Her careers, matched outfits, and lifestyle have all been representative of the time in which they were created. “Barbie is a direct reflection of the cultural impulses that formed us” (Lord 17). Barbie today might have an iPhone. A few of the dolls set to be released this spring, show the dolls in Yoga poses, it appears they’re health conscious. Another significant different is the introduction of different sizes: “Original”, “Tall”, “Petite”, and “Curvy”—for the first time making Barbie proportions at least somewhat like real women (“Barbie”). So can you say that the Barbie of the past represents the Barbie of today? Or is the Barbie of today something completely different. I’d say that while yes they have differences, but Barbie is still Barbie. That hasn’t changed. From her first progressive career choices in the 60’s, she’s always led the way for young girls to follow their dreams especially with the current branding “You Can Be Anything”.

Lord, M. G. Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. New York: William Morrow, (2004) Print.

Peason, Marlys, and Paul Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3.4 (1999): 225-59. Print.

Philadelphia and Material Culture by Ben Barsh

After having our discussion in class about material culture and Barbie’s role in it, I found myself thinking about not so much what Barbie represents (maybe due to my lack of personal connection), but material culture as a whole and how it applies to me personally. A couple of my classmates and myself discussed some of the things we collect when talking about this. I shared that I collect records. While this is true, I failed to fully recognize that I collect something more obvious and apparent.

After our class discussion I happened upon an interview with former tattooer/artist/musician Dan Higgs. In this interview Higgs states “For one of the least material possessions, it seems like tattooing is getting more materialistic.” I thought about my own role in this. I started getting tattooed at the very young age of 14. By 16 I had a handful, and before I graduated high school I was well into the double digits.

Tattoos, and “collecting” them, is something that’s non-material, but in a sense, completely material. You cant hold them, store them, or preserve them. On the contrary, they actually only guaranteed to get worse with time. They also cost money to apply, but have no value in money or actual use, unlike almost any other collection in the world.

Material culture is something that’s driven by self definition and what the things you collect do and say about you. In that sense, tattoos are completely material. They’re something born out of vanity, in its basic form. They mark an experience, or say something about you. Whether it be that you fit in here, don’t fit in there, believe in this, or alteration for the sake of alteration. Unless they are forcibly applied against will, tattoos are something that define those who wear it.

The first time I ever got referred to as a collector of tattoos was by my friend Ronnie Dell’aquilla. After getting tattooed as a young teen for the reasons tattoos would appeal to a young teen (I’m cool, I’m different, I’m tough, Girls will like it, etc…) I started pursuing tattooing with more specific definitions and boundaries. I primarily sought old timers, people who have been tattooing since before it became more mainstream. Especially those from the east coast.

Ronnie is a straight forward old Italian guy from Brooklyn, his words aren’t minced and offending people doesn’t bother him. While he was tattooing me, he took a break to talk to his wife in Pennsylvania. I remember clearly him saying “Yeah hon, I’ll leave Queens in about an hour, I’m tattooing this kid from Philly, nice kid, collector of tattoos” I was confused about what he meant at first. I thought I was just some guy getting a tattoo. I then realized, in a sense, I wasn’t. I was somebody pursuing something specific, pursuing multiple variants of it, and pursuing it with some intention of status. And that’s what drive’s material culture.

Attached image is Ronnie. He usually wears his sunglasses indoors.

New Age Barbie- Identity Found in “Flaws” by Brittany N Cozzens

This past week we have heard a lot from our peers about their experiences and thoughts on one of the world’s most popular toys, Barbie. Through the different readings we have learned that Barbie’s introduction to the world forever changed the way that women identify themselves and their material goods.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 12.34.45 PMIn Forever Barbie, by M.G. Lord, we learn that Barbie, released in 1959, was meant to be revolutionary.  She was supposed to show young girls and women how to be independent and become their own woman, and invent yourself in whatever way you choose (Lord 9). However, what we have learned through discussions and through other readings such as Pearson and Mullins “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology” is that Barbie’s identity is found more so in the things she possess and what she wears rather that what she does. By having one of the worlds most popular toys promoting a message of material culture to kids of today, we are showing them that identity formation is solely found in perfectionism- by looking perfect and having all the right things.

However, we all know that no matter how hard we try being perfect is not possible. New age Barbie, Lammily has set out to challenge Barbie and show that identity is found in flaws and embracing who you really are.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 12.19.28 PMLammily was created in 2014 by designer Nickolay Lamm who wanted to create a doll that was realistic for the size of an average 19 year old- she has a more realistic waistline, feet are flat unlike Barbie which are solely meant to wear heels, and she even has sticker that can be purchased that include tattoos, cellulite, stretch marks, acne, and scars.

This doll shows young girls that being you doesn’t mean being perfect. Flaws are part of life and make up who we are.

While Lord may argue that Barbie was a break through for women because she could “invent herself with a costume change” (9), Lammily shows that having the right outfit isn’t what makes you who you are. Material culture perpetuated through Barbie over the years has sent the wrong message to young girls about identity formation. It’s not about what you have it’s about owning your so called “flaws” and embracing them as who you actually are.

I hope that Lammily takes off for future generations, or maybe that Barbie could me modeled more like her. To say that a child’s toy doesn’t have an impact on identity formation or gender roles is a lie. Whether young kids realize it or not, these toys are forming the foundation for future beliefs. Having a realistic looking doll that isn’t consumed with looking perfect and having everything could help in helping women attain their independence at a young age as Barbie was supposed to do when she came out in 1959.


Fifteen Candles by Alisha Rivera

In our group discussions on Wednesday, a lot of us discussed that Maureen Schwarz’s article “The Marketing of Euro-American Desires” opened our eyes. I hadn’t realized how the ethnic Barbies, like the Native American Barbie, were packaged. In our discussion, Deja explained this best. She said that we weren’t so much concerned with how ethnic groups are being represented because we were just glad to see that there are other groups being represented.  Which makes sense. We become so excited to see ourselves represented, but it isn’t until someone points it out that we realize something is wrong. One major issue Schwarz points out is the descriptions on the back of the Native American Barbie boxes. These descriptions only show up on ethnic Barbie boxes and they try, but fail, to teach kids about a certain type of even, tradition, or custom. She explains that most of the descriptions on the back of the boxes were representations of “generic Indian identit[ies]” and traditions (Schwarz 302).

One that caught my eye was the 1994 Teresa Quinceañera doll. On the back of the box, it “describes” what a Quinceañera is:

“Quinceañera ‘A Day to Remember Forever!’ On her 15th birthday her family gives her a big party in the evening with many presents.  The birthday girl chooses a beautiful pink gown, carries a bouquet and has attendants too.  During the festivities, her father proudly presents her to all the guests.  With a specular cake and lots of music and dancing, it’s a wonderful celebration that every girl looks forward to and never forgets.”

The description of a Quinceañera devalues what is probably one of the most significant moments in the life of a young Latina. What is the difference, then, between a Quinceañera and a Sweet Sixteen? According to the box, there is no difference. But the Quinceañera is not only a birthday party; it’s also a religious observance.yhst-42845564182199_2267_175104032

A Quinceañera is a coming of age party where the birthday girl gets a male escort and a “court” of ladies and gentlemen. There are also two major parts: the church service and the actual party. The Quinceañera starts off with a church service in which the birthday girl receives a bible to help her walk as a young woman of God, a tiara because she is a “princess of God”, and scepter as a symbol of her receiving her “duties as a woman”. With a quick word and a prayer, the church ceremony is over.

At the party, the birthday girl goes through various other traditions. First, the father of the birthday girl will remove her low shoes and replace them with her “first high heels” as a young woman. Then they will have their first father/daughter dance. Dolls are also very important. During the party, the birthday girl will give her younger sister or a close (young) female relative her “last doll”. It symbolizes her leaving her childhood behind.

ac267dbe64151c72c0441e250fb49be6Almost all of this is missing in, not only the description on Teresa’s box, but also Teresa herself. She has almost none of these representations of a young girl turning into a young woman. M.G. Lord said that, “Toys have always said a lot about the culture that produce them” (Lord 16). From the look of it, our culture isn’t too concerned about getting things right.


Barbie: Whitewashing and the Commodification of Native People by Jessie Tomchick

As a Women’s Studies Major, I found the article on the Native American Barbie tofghd be rather interesting in terms of discussing the mainstream economy’s commodification of women of color and other minority groups. In the article written by Maureen Schwartz, she discusses how Mattel’s Barbie Doll line in many cases wrongly mocks, falsifies, and appropriates minority culture for economic benefit.

The article discussed various “Native” Barbies or “Ethnic” Barbies that have been released over the years and how poorly they personify the people that they are supposed to represent. In the 1980s and 1990s a number of toy companies began to facilitate the manufacturing of ethnic dolls which include the release of the first Barbie with “African Style hair” and Teresa, a Latina friend of Barbie’s (Schwartz 296-97).

Specifically though, Schwartz focused on the Native American Barbies that have been released over the years beginning with the 1981 release of “Eskimo Barbie” (Schwartz 297) and a number of other Native American Barbie releases beginning in 1991 (Schwartz 297). Aside from the fact that using the term “Eskimo” is offensive in itself, Mattel also continued to objectify Native American culture through the way they chose to dress the Native dolls and the backstories and backdrops they chose to go with them. Rather than using the Barbie line as a way to afford minority children representation of people from their own racial and ethnic groups, they have objectified the people and the culture they share.

While this is obviously a major area of concern for Schwartz, she is not alone with criticizing Mattel and its selfish means of cashing in on minority culture. Dr. Lisa Wade brings to the table discussion from a professor named Ann Ducille who greatly critiques Mattel’s wayward thinking. Wade discuses how the physical image of Barbie is still held to the European standard of Caucasian beauty. While Schwartz also mentions the generic body type for most Barbies (Schwartz 299), Wade brings to light that any Barbies representing women of color are made from the same body molds of the traditional Barbie figures, furthering the ideal of European beauty.

xfghWade also takes concern with the stereotypical ethnic portrayal of many ethnic Barbies including the Jamaican Barbie whose box boasts:

How-you-du (Hello) from the land of Jamaica, a tropical paradise known for its exotic fruit, sugar cane, breath-taking beaches, and reggae beat!  …most Jamaicans have ancestors from Africa, so even though our official language is English, we speak patois, a kind of ‘Jamaica Talk,’ filled with English and African words.  For example, when I’m filled with boonoonoonoos, I’m filled with much happiness!” (Wade).

In another article by Wade, mention of Mattel’s complete lack of racial sensitivity (and quite possibly common sense) regarding the release of an “Oreo Fun gdfgBarbie”; although to some it may seem completely innocent, the use of the word “Oreo” coupled with a dark-skinned doll is irreprehensible. The term “Oreo” when in reference to a woman of color refers to a woman who is black on the outside but white on the inside. The release of this doll Wade argues, shows two things: “(1) white privilege and the ease with which white people can be ignorant of non-white cultures and (2) a lack of diversity on the Mattel team” (Wade).

In conclusion Mattel’s attempt to create representation of women of color for their main target audience of young white and heteronormative children has failed the people and cultures that it has tried to represent.


Works Cited


Schwarz, Maureen. “Native American Barbie: The Marketing of Euro-American Desires.” JSTOR. January 1, 2005. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40643901.

Wade, Lisa. “Ann Ducille on “Ethnic Barbies”” The Society Pages. October 27, 2008. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/10/27/ann-ducille-on-ethnic-barbies/.

Wade, Lisa. “White Privilege and the Trouble with Homogeneity: The Black Oreo Barbie.” The Society Pages. June 10, 2009. Accessed March 12, 2015. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2009/06/10/white-privilege-and-the-trouble-with-homogeneity-the-black-oreo-barbie/.