Barbie has gone through 59 years, and a documentary explores the social significance of this toy
American economist Meyer McComby is in Barbie: Are we toys? “The meaning of Barbie’s capital for the company is: “Barbie’s body is the object of consumption itself, and it is the carrier of the costumes and spectacular scenes in the rich dream life of the teenager. Her extraordinary body is not only for men to watch and obsessed. The typical female figure, and a commodity carrier that lures the viewer and sells accessories in its form, is the true source of the company’s profits—Barbie is the embodiment of the girl in the late capitalist era.
With this 29 cm high plastic doll, Mettler has become one of the world’s largest toy companies from a small company that is not known. According to a 2002 Economist report, American girls between the ages of 3 and 11 have an average of 10 Barbie dolls per person, and Italian and British girls have an average of seven. In Hong Kong, girls also have an average of 3 Barbie dolls.
In 2015, the toy company giant encountered a rare crisis. Its sales have fallen by 21% globally, and brand influence has also been hit by a new round. In the United States in the #Metoo era, gender relations were re-examined and Barbie also needed a new definition. At this time, the director of the documentary “Tiny Shoulder: Rethinking Barbie”, Andrea Nevins, walked into the headquarters of the company in California.
The 93-minute documentary was launched at the end of April this year. The producers visited Mattel’s design director, Kim Culmone, marketing director, Michelle Chidoni, and other team members involved in the transformation of the Project Dawn, and talked about Barbie dolls. As the history of cultural symbols, and the story behind the multi-body Barbie doll launched by Metro in 2016. It also included interviews with feminists who have been critical of Barbie dolls such as Gloria Steinem, Roxane Gay, etc.
Documentary poster / Youtube
In the official trailer, Gloria Steinem said this: “Barbie represents everything we don’t want to be, but is required to be.” Barbie as a cultural symbol has been controversial. On the one hand, girls are eager to self-project in her perfect shape, while on the other hand, many people are worried that such female “models” control the aesthetic and self-awareness of young girls. In the eyes of some feminists, Barbie can never be just a doll for children, she is an icon, and is an idol with typical Caucasian femininity under patriarchy.
Barbie’s body image makes young girls feel inferior to their appearance and reinforces a single aesthetic with a specific ethnic orientation. A standard Barbie is 29.21 cm tall and measures 12 cm, 7.5 cm and 12 cm. This proportion of body is undoubtedly unrealistic. Studies have shown that the probability of Barbie’s physical condition in normal people is less than one in 100,000, and such a figure would mean that she could not have a physiological period, and even her head could not lift. But the little girls still want to “become as thin as Barbie.”
In addition to the malformed aesthetics she brought, another reason why moms are wary of Barbie dolls is because they don’t want their daughters to become superficial, consumerism-oriented “sexy beauty.” The image of Barbie seems to imply that girls, become beautiful = happiness = success. The United States was in the midst of economic prosperity after World War II, and the “American Dream” of material prosperity through individual efforts became the life creed of everyone. Barbie’s glamorous life is a microcosm of the American middle class lifestyle. BusinessWeek commented on Barbie in the “2001 Best Brands in the World” list: “She is not only a doll, she is a symbol of American society.”
At the same time, the American feminist movement is in full swing. The call for women to pursue freedom and equality has swept the whole society. As the founder Ruth Handler claimed, “By Barbie, girls can be anyone she wants to be.” Some people regard Barbie as a liberated, independent female image. Christopher Varaste, author of “The Face of the American Dream: Barbie (1959-1971)”, thinks that Barbie is not only a toy, but also a representative of American women’s independence and self-expression spirit. She plays with her wonderful life. Many possibilities for women. In the early 1960s, only 22% of American women had jobs, and Barbie has become the company’s president.
Astronaut Barbie / Fashion Doll Guide launched in 1965
In the second half of the documentary, the focus of the film shifted from the evolutionary history of Barbie to a strategic adjustment by Mettler a few years ago. In 2015, design director Kim Culmone led the entire design team to develop Barbie’s new product line. In order to get rid of the stigma of “female image of male gaze”, the race and size of the new series Barbie will become more diverse. Culmone said that during her 17 years at Metaler, Barbie’s unrealistic condition has kept the toy doll controversial. And she is determined to change this controversy by designing Barbie that is more in line with the real person. When the director followed the gay married into her apartment in the West Hollywood area, the lens lingered on the feminist decoration in the house: nude art paintings on the wall, Eileen Myle’s book, and the laptop “the future is Female” sticker.
But marketing director Chidoni doesn’t seem to want to get involved in this change. She feels that unless the company thinks that Barbie’s body image is problematic, she will cooperate with the corresponding marketing strategy change. In general, she is positioning herself as a “promotional agent” and she is responsible for maintaining the brand image, which is the female image symbolized by Barbie.
“The relationship between us and our own femininity is very complicated. This is not a matter of personalization. The whole society still has no exact idea about what women should be today. And this doll is the epitome of all this. She bears too much on her little shoulders (the origin of the title Tiny Shoulder),” said director Andrea Nevins.
At the end of the documentary, Mattel’s design and marketing team is anxiously refreshing the browser, waiting for Time magazine to issue a cover story about the new series of Barbie dolls. In this series launched in 2016, there are a total of 33 Barbie models with petite, tall, curvy and a variety of skin tones. For the first time, Barbie’s appearance has become closer to ordinary people.
New series Barbie / Mattel launched in 2016
In any case, Barbie has become an indispensable part of the history of pop culture in the United States and the world. If there are no accidents, Barbie, who has different shapes on the toy shelf, in the girl’s room, and in the image world of the Internet, will continue to exist as an annotation of the times. When she needs her face to change her face, she can become anything.