If you’re off to Paris in the coming months, please make sure you visit the Barbie exhibition at Les Arts Decoratifs. Running until 10th September, its the first show of its kind in France – Barbie has never been invited there before…gasp.
Barbie is a figure that incites an awful lot of debate. You only have to look at the recent release of the more ‘body positive range celebrating diversity’ to see the controversy this little lady courts on a regular basis. Online some ladies have lashed out against the launch saying that “adult hangups are being forced on kids”, yet others heralded it an amazingly positive move that should be celebrated.
There’s no doubt that Barbie divides opinion. However, I’m going to chime in with the great words of Marilyn Monroe to explain why I’m celebrating her on my blog:
“it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring”.
Barbie – What a woman
This pinup has been breaking hearts since 1959 when she created by Ruth Handler, head of Mattel following a fascination with how her daughter Barbara played with paper dolls (hence her name Barbie).
Although some see Barbie simply as an airhead, her creator’s intension was far deeper:
“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.” – Ruth Handler.
For me, Barbie was an integral part of growing up. As someone with a rather crazy imagination I could dress Barbie in all manner of creations, most importantly ones which I was too scared to even contemplate wearing myself for fear of my fellow classmates making fun of me. As the years went on there were other rival dolls competing for my attention; Cindy and also Jem – both of which I liked an awful lot. The bugbear for me though was that I couldn’t actually swap shoes between them (Jem’s feet were majorly bigger). Although they competed for my affections, Barbie took the number one slot.
Yes she’s plastic and at times jeered at for being an unrealistic role model due to her inhuman like proportions but she has her redeeming qualities. When I was an infant Barbie allowed me to use my imagination and surprisingly I also found her ambitious and inspiring – hey, that astronaut Barbie was kick ass! Even though I knew I’d never look like her, the amount of clothes and accessories I could adorn her with, and the imaginary situations I could place her in were truly endless.
The exhibition features Barbie’s humble beginnings – her creation was designed to embody the “American way of life”. It then delves deeper into Barbie’s evolution through social, political and cultural changes. The new range might have attracted publicity in the shedloads but Barbie has always been diverse. The first ethically diverse Barbie’s actually appeared in the 70s, contrary to what the latest news stories would lead you to believe about the new range’s groundbreaking launch.
Throughout the decades Barbie has undergone a fashion evolution too. Her style and occupations have echoed contemporary trends. The exhibition takes you through a myriad of Barbies clearly evidencing her relevancy through the ages. Of course there’s some great Barbies to glare at: The Alfred Hitchcock, DC Comics and the Marilyn incarnations are my personal favourites from the collection.
Although Barbie was far from a classic Pinup figure wise, she definitely put her stamp on society from her release. A highlight of the exhibition explored her relation to the fashion world: firstly her relation to the traditional pinups of latter-day, right through to the partnerships with couture houses – think Diane Von Furstenberg, Versace, Thierry Mugler, Christian Lacroix, Jean Paul Gaultier, Maison Martin Margiela and Christian Louboutin…the list goes on!
I’m not sure there’s a better symbol for ‘Pop’ than Barbie herself, hence why she was immortalised by Andy Warhol – a picture than took pride of place in the art section of the show.
The wall of Barbie clothes and accessories at the end of the exhibition nearly sent me into meltdown. I was transported back to my childhood where I’d throw all her clothes onto my bedroom floor and spend hours choosing outfits for her. For me it’s the endless possibilities that Barbie had at her fingertips that was alluring – and I realised while standing there (nose pressed on glass) that nothing’s changed. Even as an adult I left the exhibition feeling ‘hey I might be 33 but dammam what a world of possibilities there is out there’! And who can argue with that right?