Can Barbie Really Have It All?

In 1965, four years before the moon landing, a good yank went into house. traveler Barbie wore a silver bimetal jump suit, moon boots, and a kicky white plastic helmet, all the higher to breathe with during a vacuum. It didn’t matter that it might be another eighteen years before the primary yank girl, Sally Ride, would truly set foot on the competition, or that traveler Barbie’s blue make-up expected the NASA-issue makeup kit that Ride’s male colleagues later assumed she’d would like.

Since then, Barbie has conquered different frontiers that long remained maddeningly out of reach for nondolls. She’s been a serious League participant, a military ranger, a Nascar driver, Associate in Nursingd even president (running in 2016 on an all-female ticket). With Barbie, the catchword goes, you’ll be able to be something. No children’s toy has been a lot of keyed in to shifts in widespread culture once it involves ladies, massive and tiny. however Barbie’s connection comes at a price. Since her origination, she’s been Associate in Nursing avatar for each dialogue concerning what trendy ladies ought to be, do, say, represent, and (most of all) appear as if. It’s an important burden for Associate in Nursing eleven.5 in. doll to carry—no matter however uncommonly numerous her resume may be.

It’s conjointly the topic of small Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, a brand new documentary by Andrea Nevins recently discharged on Hulu, that follows the efforts to remodel Barbie into a a lot of 21st-century toy. Nevins follows the designers and marketers making an attempt to rebrand Barbie’s public image by transforming her look. on the means, Nevins interviews feminist historians and writers together with Steinem, Amanda Foreman, Peggy Orenstein, and Roxane Gay concerning their own impressions of Barbie dolls. As Nevins loops in cultural touchstones like beauty pageants, Dreamhouses, and John Berger’s ways that of Seeing, it step by step becomes apparent that a history of Barbie is nothing but a history of Western womanhood. Our Barbies, ourselves.

From her terribly conception, little Shoulders reveals, Barbie was problematic. before her creation, the sole toy dolls on the market for youngsters came within the sort of babies, that inspired very little women to examine themselves in nurturing roles. however Ruth Handler, WHO managed sales for her husband’s toy-manufacturing company, noticed that her female offspring would normally assign adult personalities to cut-out paper dolls whereas twiddling with them. She came up with Barbie, a grown-up doll—with a specifically adult figure—upon that women may project their own evolving identities and ideas of what they may become. On a visit to Europe, Handler encountered the Bild Lilli doll, a sexualized joke toy sold-out to adult men in tobacco retailers, and based mostly the primary Barbie example on this model.

Barbie’s disposition has been a lightning rod ever since. As Nevins points out, the doll’s figure has been tweaked many times throughout her nearly 60-year history: her breasts enlarged, her waist taken in. Mattel, the toy company based by Handler’s husband and his partner, claimed that Barbie’s efficient figure created it easier to decorate and undress her. Critics and researchers have detected that Barbie’s statistics, scaled to a true woman’s size, would be concerning 36-18-33, which her frame is thus scrawny she’d be unable to shed blood. Her feet, for good distorted into the form of high-heeled shoes, created it not possible for her to face, in addition to serve operational Desert Storm or perform surgery. to not mention that Barbie’s blonde hair and white skin perpetuated the concept to women that ideal beauty conformed to one quality and hair color.

As Nevins goes within Mattel headquarters in El Segundo, CA in 2015, it’s clear that Barbie has reached a crisis purpose. At the time, her sales area unit down twenty one % globally and therefore the power of her whole is waning. one thing must be done to create Barbie a lot of appealing to trendy moms. however the classified method of reinventing her, codenamed Project Dawn, could be a fraught one, rife with flash points, cultural landmines, and probably explosive debates around gender, race, and body image. Plus, there area unit sensible problems to contemplate, like whether or not taller Barbies can work on custom-sized store shelves, and the way completely different shapes of Barbies need the scale of everything else to alter accordingly: bicycles, shoe sizes, even the doors of the Dreamhouse. once you take into account however difficult everything becomes, a Barbie designer tells the camera, it’s easier to grasp why it’s taken see you later.

What’s thus distinctive concerning Barbie, little Shoulders argues, is that she’s a example for larger debates and trends within the universe. within the early Nineteen Sixties, once solely twenty two % of yank ladies were within the men, Barbie was shaping a career as a executive director (with facet hustles as Associate in Nursing air hostess and a fashion designer). From 1959 to 1971, Barbie’s eyes were painted to be uncomfortable demurely; her straight-ahead gaze coincided with the crest of feminism’s second wave. As Kim Culmone, Mattel’s head of Barbie style, works to reimagine the dolls all told varieties of shapes and skin colours, she must navigate a wealth of problems concerning language and packaging that Handler may ne’er have fanciful.

The camera captures Culmone’s chapfallen face as she watches a spotlight cluster of women twiddling with prototypes of a curvier Barbie. “Hello, I’m a fatty,” {one of|one among|one during all|one amongst|one in every of} the kids says in a mock-Barbie voice, whereas the others giggle. however the moving-picture show conjointly documents however uncontrollably excited Mattel’s largely feminine team is after they receive mockups of the redesigned Barbies, wearing Associate in Nursing array of peplum topnotch and distressed denim. “It’s like Christmas morning,” one girl says. There’s one thing concerning these dolls that also captures their imagination. Is it nostalgia? Barbie’s wardrobe? Or what she still represents? “Work from nine to five so modification during a sec for a night with Ken,” as a TV ad from the ’90s advertising a day-to-night Barbie puts it. “We women will do something.”

The most tense arc of small Shoulders hinges on however the new Barbies area unit received within the world, that I won’t spoil. however the foremost fascinating side of the moving-picture show is however it uses Barbie as a figure of speech for a culture that’s still infinitely a lot of preoccupied with what a girl sounds like than what she says. In one scene, Nevins films Michelle Chidoni, Mattel’s VP for international communications, as she drives to figure in her automobile. On the radio, a fleet of commentators dissect what Sir Edmund Percival Hillary Clinton is doing right in her landmark presidential campaign. Her jacket is just too pricey, they agree, however her new regular makeup creator helps, since Clinton overall appearance far better. For comparison, the indorsement on a 2016 “President Barbie” box touted her “leadership in polished outfits ought to have the White House.” The doll may need broken through one ceiling, however there area unit others even she can’t appear to shatter.