This is the second part of the “Barbie – doll and phenomenon” story. It comes as a special part of the Women’s History Month, in which Fun Museums give a special attention to the overlooked aspects of women’s history. Today we are talking about Barbie Doll and her underrated history of promoting many important things we often talk today.
While many see Barbie as a symbol of unhealthy beauty standards, at the same time they forget about the majestic role of Barbie in thinking about diversity and inclusion.
This is the second part of the “Barbie – toll and phenomenon” story. It comes as a special part of the Women’s History Month, in which Fun Museums give special attention to the overlooked aspects of women’s history. If you haven’t read the first part of this story, you can check it here.
Barbie Doll and her underrated history: from women’s rights activism to museums
As the most popular toy ever in terms of sales, Barbie has influenced not only the girls’ toys, but also the society and politics, as well as fashion and culture in general. As a result, she appeared on art exhibitions in traditional museums such as Louvre or Museum of Cultures in Milan.
Before 1971 and the release of the Malibu Barbie who “looks back at the observer”, Barbie Doll used to look on the side, just like her predecessor Bild Lilli. Why is that important?
Although it might seem like a small detail, it was a big deal back then. In fact, the idea that a woman can be that dressed up, pretty, and look directly to the observer is a result of women’s right activism within the sexual revolution of the 60s.
Diversity of cultures and trends
Many trends in music and fashion that changed from decade to decade reflected on Barbie too. For instance, in the 70s there was a “Superstar Barbie” in a long dress inspired by Charlie’s Angels and Saturday Night Fever. After that, in the 90s the Rapper Barbie came around.
In 1980, the Mattel launched the first Afro-American Barbie, while shortly after we got to see a Latin American Barbie. From then on, as much as 40 international Barbie dolls became available to reflect this very diverse world.
Since her inception, Barbie has served as a fashion icon. As a result, she was the face of many anniversaries and milestone events for fashion companies. For instance, Barbie was featured at the 50th anniversary of the “New look” fashion line from Christian Dior.
2009 was the year in which Barbie celebrated her 50th birthday. For that occasion, the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York was fully dedicated to Barbie. Over 50 fashion houses joined the initiative, considering Barbie an icon of modern American culture.
How many time do we say that Barbie is “iconic”? Icon is a Greek word meaning “image”. Read more about it if you are curious.
Barbie’s little-known role in the LGTBQIA+ history
Barbie has also inspired many artists. In 1986, Andy Warhol created his portrait of Barbie, the same way he created portraits of Marlyn Monroe decades earlier, along with many other American celebrities and brands.
Curiously, Andy Worhol incorporated someone specific in Barbie’s portrait. His lover and muse, Billy Boy, was a shy guy who refused to appear on any pictures. However, he accepted being portrayed through Barbie, because Barbie was his hero and icon. “Barbie c’est moi”, he said.
Billy Boy was a passionate collectionner of Barbie Dolls, and he owned tens of thousands of them. He even designed his own editions of Barbie dolls, named “Feelin’ Groovy Barie” and “Le nouveau theatre de la mode”. It was the first time that someone’s signature showed up on a batch.
Inspirational Barbie Dolls
Barbie Doll never stops dreaming and innovating. In 2018, a new line presented the series of inspiring women, featuring the painter Frida Kahlo, the pilot Amelia Earhart, and the mathematician Katherine Jonhson among others.
Although Barbie’s popularity has diminished over the recent years, partially due to the competition from Bratz Dolls, her role in popular culture and the interpretation of trends in this fast-changing world remains iconic.