In March 1959, Mattel, Inc. released the iconic Barbie doll. The child of Wisconsin-based George and Margaret Roberts, Barbara (“Barbie”) Millicent Roberts has featured in many of our lives. Her CV boasts companionship with nearly every girl during childhood, in addition to a modelling career, several movie roles and a feature of Warhol’s work, not to mention an enormous wardrobe and long-term relationship with action-figure boyfriend, Ken. She also celebrated her 50th birthday in overstated style seven years ago, which involved a runway show in New York during Fashion Week featuring designs from Calvin Klein, Christian Louboutin and Vera Wang. Apparently life in plastic really is fantastic.
She is however an immensely controversial figure, who has evoked many controversies and featured in several lawsuits. Whilst her Wikipedia page tells us that she has a ‘significant impact on social values by conveying characteristics of feminine independence’, Barbie has come under heavy fire for her physique, exhibiting a standard of feminine beauty that is frankly quite terrifying to present to young children. Still, she features in millions of homes worldwide and my family home was no exception. Nonetheless, Barbie lost immense popularity by retail standards in 2014; perhaps an inevitability considering the disastrous haircut I gave her ten years before.
However Barbie’s three-year lull seems only fleeting as younger, world-famous companions flock to her side to boost their elder’s image. In November last year, the Ashley Graham Barbie appeared, praised for its ‘touching thighs’ at the body-activist’s request. She also has a custom-made lingerie collection to match Graham’s for Addition Elle.
Just two weeks ago, Mattel announced the next release of the Gigi Hadid Barbie doll, snapped rollerblading with her predecessor as they wear matching Tommy Hilfiger tees. The similarities are striking; Hadid’s modelling career and enormous array of accessories presents her as a keen comparison to Barbie, as do her celebrity besties and famous boyfriend.
However whilst Graham’s doll attempts to mirror the plus-size model’s image, Hadid’s representation follows exactly in Barbie’s miniature physique. Studies have shown that a human body’s incarnation of Barbie’s proportions cannot physically exist, which arises some key issues with characterising Hadid as such. The model is a keen activist for healthy living and exercise. She also appears immensely aware of her influence by responding accordingly on social media, but whilst many of us bear in mind the false reality that is Instagram and Facebook, it is still a platform of delusion and impressionability.
Presenting Hadid as Barbie’s body double aligns her with a physical impossibility and, whilst I’m not suggesting that with a few rounds in a boxing ring we’d all look like Gigi Hadid, she is still human. I will concede that the face is scarily accurate for a plastic doll but this representation complicates and undermines her work promoting positive body image and looking after one’s body. It also sadly undermines the steps taken by Mattel with their Ashley Graham doll only four months previously.