TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Letter from the Editor
    By Laura Snelgrove

  2. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
    By Brian Centrone

  3. Pink is a Tint of Red: How Barbie Turned Me Off Communism and Into a Fashion Historian
    By Julia Petrov

  4. Hi Barbie! A Standpoint Analysis From Black Millennial Girls Who Aren’t in Barbie’s World
    By Keira Moore, Maya Revell, and Alliyah Moore

  5. It’s a Queer Barbie World
    By Zara Korutz

  6. Don’t Ask Me, I’m Just a Girl: Lisa Simpson, Teen Talk Barbie, and Malibu Stacy on Feminism, Gender, and Stereotyping
    By Doris Domoszlai-Lantner and Petra Egri

  7. Visual Vertigo
    By Wonne Scrayen

  8. How to Lose Weight with Barbie
    By Emily L. Newman

  9. C’mon Barbie… let’s have a pool party!
    By Terry Burant

  10. Barbie Who? The Influence of Barbie on the Aesthetics and Creative Imagery of Fashion Makers
    By Anna Zinola, Carlos Gago Rodriguez, and Sara Kaufman

  11. Black Barbie: Representation and Self-Love
    By Aliyah Martinez

  12. Barbie in Tucson
    By Katya Moorman

  13. Paradoxical Decadence: On Moschino and Motherhood
    By Mary Fellios

  14. Billy Boy: Barbie Obsessed, Fashion Icon
    By Frank New

  15. Cultivating Individuality: Weird Barbie Style
    By Tannya Villalvazo

  16. She’s More Like Us Than We Think: Actually She’s Just Like Us
    By Paola Di Trocchio

  17. Letters to Barbie
    By Amelyah Roach, Sophie Ziser, and  Francesca Osayande


Hi, Barbie?


Well, friends. Here we are, nearly a year after the release of the Barbie movie, and 65 years after the doll debuted, still thinking about her.

Does the summer of 2023, when many of us first saw and debated the merits of Barbie, now seem like a simpler time? Sure, but if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s to get used to the sensation of multiplying crises and nostalgia for when the stakes felt lower. At this pace, how do we determine which parts of which cultural conversations to keep in the mix and which to cycle out?

We’ve made a decision, with this issue, to honor our strong reactions to Barbie – good and bad, and to the cultural figure as much as the movie – by keeping her in the mix a little longer. The humanities aren’t about hot takes, so we’re attempting to give this topic the consideration it deserves, even from where we sit in 2024.

There’s a dissonance that comes from researching, writing, and thinking about a topic so far removed from the most urgent conversations of the day. Let’s be real – this is a factor in doing fashion studies at the best of times. Our community knows why fashion history and theory are relevant to many, many topics of great importance, and we’ve all found ourselves needing to make the case to skeptics. Still, it can be a challenge to find purpose in this work when our notifications are flooded with all the horrors our research has no ability to fix.

I’m pleased to say that the writing in this issue addresses so many of the ways Barbie connects to bigger-picture questions: Zara Korutz and Frank New discuss how the doll has gotten it right (and sometimes less right) when it comes to her queer fanbase; Doris Domoszlai-Lantner and Petra Egri poke at the contradictions in her feminism; Keira Moore, Maya Revell, and Alliyah Moore, as well as Aliyah Martinez, offer their experiences as Black women consumers being sold Barbie’s version of DEI; others take up these and many more angles for investigating this complex, multitudinous figure. Barbie has represented so many different identities, from her origin in the mind of Jewish American Ruth Handler to her embodiment of a variety of other ethnic groups, sizes, and abilities. We should be examining her from as many sides, and always through the lens of liberation.

As our timelines roil with genocide, war, fear, and phobia, and we find ourselves unsure of where our voices belong, it feels important for us as an editorial group to return to a mission statement we wrote in 2021 (a simpler time… or was it??). We stated our intention to amplify marginalized voices and honest conversations, to prioritize perspectives that are equitable, feminist, queer, and actively antiracist. We remain committed to that agenda, and FSJ remains available to you, our community, as a place to come together in solidarity.

Fashion studies research isn’t going to single handedly bring peace and safety to the Middle East, or to any other region torn apart by conflict, nor will it stem the tide of global fascism, protect targeted groups from violence, repair the damages of colonialism, or reverse global warming. But when and where we can, we have to respond with the tools we have.

Thank you so much to the incredible contributors to this issue, who submitted from far and wide. Special thanks to Brian Centrone, who jumped at the chance to include his Barbie photography and ended up elevating the whole collection. Huge gratitude to Aimee Koran and Katya Moorman for the imagery that became the header above this letter. When the nonsense grinds you down, remember, you’re too pretty for this shit.

Peace,

Laura Snelgrove, Editor in Chief
on behalf of the FSJ editorial team


Me, admiring my DreamHouse. A simpler time.


Notes: Letter from the Editor

[1] For examples of how fashion studies research published in FSJ has previously addressed one of today’s most urgent conversations, we encourage you to revisit Roberto Filippello’s interview with the designers of Trashy Couture and Joelle Firzli’s exploration of the kaffiyeh. FSJ stands firmly against the genocide being enacted in Palestine and in solidarity with the Jewish people around the world whose safety is threatened by rising antisemitism.




Brian Centrone has been in love with Barbie since the day he walked into a toy shop at five years old and saw her smiling at him through her box on the shelf. His love for Ken occurred when he hit puberty. Brian is a creative writer and a fashion historian.

With your silky smooth,
platinum
hair
and
as silky nylon pink, full skirt,
the one with glow in the dark stars
and the also pink, stiff velour bodice trimmed in lace,
that compliments Ken’s gray, stiff velour tuxedo
which reminds me of my mother’s velour draperies,
the ones in her Spanish-Conquistador inspired bedroom,
deep green and very heavy,
very much like the portieres that Scarlett O’Hara had Mammy make her
a dress out of
in Gone with the Wind so she could get the tax money from Rhett Butler to save Tara.
Always for Tara.
Everything for Tara.
Ken’s vest which matches Barbie’s skirt with glow in the dark stars of his very own
and his hair,
not so silky smooth
and painted Brown,
perfectly molded
like his
flesh-colored briefs
so tighty but,
not so whitey.
Only Beach themed Ken had the plastic mound of
Manhood or lack there of
and that Ken was blonde,
but still all smiles and classically handsome
and so in love with the most beautiful girl in the world
who waltzed in and out of my life
like in the commercial with Ken
designed to sell:
“You can tell it’s Mattel!”
so that all the other girls could never live up to you,
or had to live up to you,
be like you,
look like you,
dream like you.
Our life that could have been,
altered quite suddenly,
unexpectedly,
when one day Ken showed up at MY dream house door
minus his molded briefs.




Dr. Julia Petrov is Curator of Daily Life and Leisure at the Royal Alberta Museum, and is adjunct academic staff at the University of Alberta. She researches and writes about dress history, gender, and museology. She is the author of Fashion, History, Museums: Inventing the Display of Dress (Bloomsbury, 2019).


Imagination, life is your creation


I was born in the dying years of the Soviet Union and grew up amidst legendary queues and increasing shortages of consumer goods. Although my parents were middle class, and we lived in the capital, Moscow, which to some degree protected us from the hardships faced by people outside of the country’s urban centers, our family means were limited. Apart from a few stuffed animals and some random pieces of toy furniture (a child-size wooden chair, a tiny piano, and a doll crib oddly out of scale to anything else), at playtime, I had to make do with a small number of odd dolls.

My prized possession, named Lilya after the distant relative in Minsk who gave her to me, was a large doll dressed in a folk-style costume of lace-trimmed blouse and floral skirt. Her left arm was loose in its socket, which eventually led to my mother throwing her away while I was out for the day at school. But her prismatic blue eyes, fringed with long eyelashes, would close when she lay down (an engineering mystery that fascinated me almost as much as my classic nevalyashka doll’s ability to stand up when knocked down), and I learned to braid by playing with her thick, blonde hair.

I also had a much smaller plastic doll with curly auburn hair. I do not remember her ever having had any clothes, so I learned to modestly cover her nakedness by tying a selection of colorful plastic bags over her front (I was yet too young to learn to sew). Later, when I was closer to school age, family friends in West Germany sent me three Erna Meyer figures (all Victorian children) as well as two soft-bodied dolls dressed in athletic clothing. One of these was blonde and had an uncanny resemblance to my real-life best friend, so she was duly named Masha; I gave my best friend the brunette matching doll in remembrance of me, even though she didn’t look like me. All of my dolls looked like young girls, with pouting baby faces and unsexed bodies.
 

Top: The author holding her doll, Lilya. Moscow, c. 1985. Middle: The author and her toys. Probably Moscow, c. 1989.
Bottom: The author, accompanied by her mother, holding her doll Masha; Buddha visible behind. Moscow, 1990, days before emigrating.
All images courtesy of the author.
Luckily, for the purposes of playing out more grown-up themes, I also had a hand-me-down molded plastic military figure, probably modeled after the “good soldier Svejk,” a Czech literary and film character very popular in Russia during my parents’ generation. Naturally, he was paired off with the most beautiful doll of the lot: a small antique pincushion doll with a porcelain torso and arms but a lower body made of a cardboard dome covered with sky-blue satin, in imitation of a ruched crinoline skirt. This glamorous but unarticulated pair presided over my improvised dollhouses - forts made from cushions and cardboard.

I also enjoyed playing with the bronze Tibetan Buddha that sat incongruously on top of my parents’ antique writing desk; I would unfold the desk, climb on top of its worn green leather writing surface, and take off Buddha’s crown. The lotus flower he held was also removable; I delighted in putting its stem back into the perfect perforation in his palm.

Come on Barbie, let’s go party


My parents rarely took me along with them to social events, but once, when I was 6 or 7, we all attended a party held by family friends. The couple had a daughter who was a little older than me, and that might have been why I was also invited. The family was better off than us: they lived in a large apartment and had access to all kinds of exclusive aspects of the Western lifestyle that were largely out of reach even for my bourgeois-minded parents. Implicitly understanding our straitened financial circumstances, I had never even asked my parents to have a taste of the colorful juice from concentrate that swirled temptingly around the dispensers at delis we occasionally visited, so the fact that orange Fanta was served at this party was a signal comprehensible even to me of the impossibly high rank of social elite to which this family belonged. The Fanta tasted horrible - chemical sweetness attacked my tongue on a rush of carbon bubbles. But another forbidden Western luxury I spotted that day changed my life forever.

In pride of place, on a table in the center of the room, was a Barbie. Actually, given that she was a brunette, she might not have been Barbie herself - maybe she was a Midge, or maybe she was an Eastern-European imitation of a Barbie. She may have been imported after a trip abroad, or perhaps she was one of the few Western toys available at elite Moscow toy stores during perestroika [1]. Nevertheless, she was exotic and forbidden. Although her stiff limbs, tiny waist, and pointed toes were grotesque, she fascinated me - she threw into harsh relief the bulbous ugliness of my baby girl dolls. Her closest parallel in my own toy box was the boudoir doll, which was, technically, only half a doll! I wanted the Barbie, and yet, I knew that my parents would never be able to give me one of my own.

It had taken years, but this was the moment that my class consciousness was cemented; against the hopes of Party propagandists, however, it did not create in me a distaste for the inequalities of the West. Instead, that Barbie doll made me realize that I wanted to be part of the ruling elite - the hypocrisy of the socialist state be damned, I wanted the finest things in life, and to my 7-year-old mind, that meant owning a Barbie.

It would be wrong to assume that I was then filled with a counter-Revolutionary zeal. I did not wrestle that Barbie away from her owner, or steal it, to demonstrate my understanding of the inequality and exploitation of the capitalist West. In fact, I’m not sure I even played with her much that afternoon. I had internalized the passive dejection of knowing my inferior social status a long time ago. At home, I continued to play with my awkward, semi-clothed, ragtag band of deformed dolls. But Barbie had entered my life, and there was no going back.

Top: All we owned. Author’s doll Masha is on the table, now wearing Lilya’s dress. Calgary, 1990, the day after immigrating.
Middle: The author next to a tea cozy doll (baba na chainik). Calgary, 1990.
Bottom: The author as Barbie princess. Lynn, c. 1993.
All images courtesy of the author.

“I have no concerns about Barbie’s influence on me. She enabled me to realize my ambitions and live as my authentic self.”



Life in plastic, it’s fantastic


The 1980s were a bleak decade to live in Russia. A series of increasingly old and decrepit Communist Party Chairmen had ensured the total stagnation of the economy, resulting in widespread shortages and rationing. Young people like my parents struggled to make ends meet even on a guaranteed income in a planned economy, and the increased transparency of Gorbachev’s glasnost made it even clearer that there was no hope for the next generation if the corrupt and hypocritical system was to continue. Terrified by the fallout from Chernobyl, but emboldened by the fall of the Berlin Wall, my parents were determined to escape. Drawing on family connections, they were able to obtain entry to Canada. We left the Soviet Union in September 1990, with 6 suitcases and $200 Canadian dollars - all that we were allowed to take with us to start a new life. I was eight years old. In the little backpack that I carried with me on the plane, I packed my own treasures, including my blonde West German athlete doll, and Erna Meyer figures [2].

For the first six months, we lived in the basement of the relative who had sponsored our immigration. The suitcases lay, permanently open, on the floor, my parents slept on a mattress on the floor in the spare room, and I slept on the taupe velvet sectional in the wood-paneled rec room. My parents found entry-level jobs, and I started school. Apart from the contents of my imported rucksack, I also played with the other denizen of that basement: a quilted tea cozy doll, dressed in a Russian folk ensemble.

These privations didn’t last long. As soon as my parents began getting paid at their new jobs (gas station attendant and nursing home assistant), they made my doll dreams come true. I soon received a pink cardboard box with a Barbie of my very own. Mattel had named her “My First Barbie,” and perhaps my parents took that moniker literally when they selected her at the store. She was dressed in an iridescent princess gown with a tiara. The colors and textures of her outfit fascinated me, and I was delighted when, a couple of years later, my grandmother found a similar dress at a jumble sale for me to wear as a costume.

One winter day, my parents hauled a huge box inside. They maneuvered it down the stairs and revealed the surprise: it was a Barbie dollhouse! Originally released in 1984, this four-room pink mansion (the Barbie Glamour Home) had a spiral staircase on one side, an imitation wicker swing on the other, and a rooftop patio. My father (an aerospace engineer) dutifully put it together for me, although we had trouble with the stickers that were meant to cover up the plastic beams that held it together, and some were forever upside down or wrinkled after our botched assembly. Even with its flaws, it was still a long way from the interiors in which I really lived. The dream of a better life, as painted by Barbie, was beginning to come true. A few items of furniture also followed, but I found them awkward and illogical, given that the dollhouse had images printed on its walls of the contents, and these didn’t correspond to the furnishings I now owned.

Not long afterwards, I received two more inhabitants for the mansion: a gift set of Dance Magic Barbie and Ken, dressed in iridescent white ballroom outfits. Ken’s hair changed color with the application of cold or hot water, and Barbie’s gown converted to a tutu; their fashion options seemed endless. Thereafter, family members always had gift ideas to fall back on at Christmastime and my birthday: my uncle scored a particular coup when he obtained the last “Totally Hair” Barbie in the city, in her Pucci-inspired mini-dress, after driving around all the city’s toy stores in a blizzard during the frigid winter of 1992.

Totally Hair Barbie, 1992.
Image courtesy of Mattel.


At first, I was content to play with the dolls as they were presented. I even took a particular pride in keeping their outfits pristine and associated with their original wearers. However, as my collection grew, and was increasingly augmented by second-hand Barbies (and Barbie knock-offs), who wore scraps of clothing or nothing at all, even the packs of Barbie outfits available in stores no longer satisfied me.

You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere


In the summers, when school was out, my parents flew me to Boston, to stay with my grandparents and practice my Russian. My grandmother and her friends enjoyed Saturday morning “yard sailing,” (pun intended) where we would pile into the car, armed with the classified page of the paper and an address of a promising garage sale in a tony neighborhood. These experts knew, from pulling up to the curb, whether it was worth getting out; estate sales were vetoed on account of their inflated prices. In those days, the older residents of towns like Marblehead and Swamscott were selling vintage furnishings and household goods from the 1940s to the 1960s, and treasures could be had for just a few dollars. After the first sale, we would follow the homemade signs on the streets to others, sometimes going as far as Salem; if it hadn’t been a good day and it was still early enough, we would return home via the nearby flea market. My grandfather would then be entertained by a show-and-tell of our finds over lunch.

Naturally, I was always on the lookout for Barbies, but my grandmother had started to teach me needlecrafts, and I slowly began to also accumulate material to upgrade my Barbies’ standards of living. The first thing we made was some bedding (the bed itself being an upcycled polystyrene tray from some supermarket meat), but doilies, handkerchiefs, and small scraps of fabric proved useful for creating clothes. I eagerly snapped up vintage napkins, hem tape, lace, buttons, and headscarves at yard sales for a few cents each. Some of these notions are still in my stash to this day.

Another favorite destination in the summers was the Museum of Fine Arts. Knowing my love of dolls, my family pointed out a book in the gift shop: a Dover reprint of paper dolls originally published in the Boston Herald in the mid-1890s. Now that I had discovered crafting, I found paper dolls limiting to my imagination, but looking at the figures of the blonde and brunette models in their corsets and petticoats, I realized that their silhouettes and stiff posture were uncannily similar to my Barbies. In a sudden cognitive leap, I understood why I found the results of my sewing experiments making modern clothing for my dolls unsatisfying - their bodies were all wrong for contemporary styles. Another book purchase made that day was Joan Nunn’s Fashion in Costume, and her spidery line drawings of historic clothes were to become my guides to creating outfits for my Barbies which suited their corseted shapes.
And so, as a tween, without even knowing that’s what I was doing, I began to do research in dress history. I would carefully study a doll’s face and hair to determine the most suitable period for them, then consult my books for inspiration, and dig through my stash for appropriate materials. Partly because I came to Barbies so late, but mostly because I enjoyed the creative outlet and historical context, I continued to regularly sew costumes for my dolls well into my teens.
Top: The author at work. Lying on my grandparents’ bed, showing my newest creation: an Edwardian outfit for Skipper. The fabric was a thin suede which hurt my fingers when I was sewing. The vintage silk scarf in front of me became a Victorian gown and bonnet. The photos of the dolls, above, were taken by my grandfather, who began to methodically document my creations. Lynn, c. 1995.
Middle: Unwrapping a French translation of James Laver’s Costume and Fashion: A Concise History (Thames and Hudson) from a relative in France. Lynn, December 1996.
Bottom: The author with her creations. Lynn, 1996 and 1999.
All images courtesy of the author.


I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world


Being an introverted only child, I had no context for gauging whether my hobbies were normal. I continued with sewing because I liked it, and my passion and growing knowledge won over anyone who might have objected that I was too old to play with dolls. I was also fortunate enough to be surrounded by caring adults who nurtured my interests, including giving me reference books or sewing materials, and sharing opportunities to view historical costumes on display.

When I was 16, the local open-air living history museum hosted a fashion show, put on by the Vancouver-based curator and collector Ivan Sayers. My mother saw the ad in the paper, and bought us tickets. For two hours, models dressed in historical costumes from Sayers’s collection promenaded in the upstairs hall of an Edwardian prairie hotel, as he lectured about a century of fashion. I was stunned: here was a respectable middle-aged man who made a living doing what I was doing for dolls, but in real life?!?! Coming from a deeply conventional family of engineers, doctors, and academics, I had no idea that it was even possible to make a career out of fashion history that wasn’t designing costumes for stage and screen (the performing arts were looked on with great suspicion in my family). The seed was planted there and then - perhaps I could make Barbie play pay?

It took many more years for me to become comfortable with the idea of a career path in museums and academia, specializing in the history of dress. For me, play was incompatible with professionalism, and I had internalized what my fellow Canadian fashion curator Alexandra Palmer has noted as the negative stereotype of fashion curators as “style-obsessed ladies and gay men playing dress-up with large dolls” [3]. But looking back, it is undeniable that my years of costuming Barbie had been a form of apprenticeship.

Much has been written about Barbie, maligning her negative influence on young girls' understanding of their bodies and their prospects [4], but outside of the rigid parameters of a controlled psychological experiment, the reality of imaginative play is more complex [5]. While Soviet propagandists would certainly have disapproved of Barbie’s consumerist appeal, and my parents may have had doubts about the long-term feasibility of my choice of career, I have no concerns about the influence that Barbie had on me. She enabled me to realize my ambitions and live as my authentic self.

I made my last Barbie outfit when I was 27. I was working at a university in my dream job: lecturing on the history of fashion, and also curating a large teaching collection of clothing and textiles. My colleague and I were clearing out the workroom, and discovered a forlorn naked doll on a shelf. She might not have been a Barbie - perhaps she was a vintage Midge or one of Barbie’s other friends; she had strawberry blonde hair in tight curls to her shoulders, and I immediately envisioned her in an 1840s Romantic-era gown. I took her home and dug through my fabric stash until I found the perfect blue-and-white gingham to create a dress based on historic fashion plates. Appropriately attired, she was then returned to the bookshelf. My (former) colleague recently undertook another reorganization of the workroom, and gifted the doll to me in remembrance of our time working together. To me, the doll also represents the trajectory of my life: the choice my parents made to leave the deprivation of the Soviet Union for a better life in the West, which enabled me to follow my passion.
Top: Totally Hair Barbie was transformed into an 1860s lady, her hair contained in a snood.
Second from top: This vintage Michael Jackson figure was purchased at the Lynn flea market in the mid-1990s, along with two New Kids on the Block figures. His original sparkly socks and shoes are visible under his trousers. My tailoring skills left a lot to be desired, and although the gender disparity among my collection bothered me, I didn’t often attempt sewing suits. 
Second from bottom: Dance Magic Ken; his original suit has been accessorized with an Ascot.
Bottom: My last Barbie, 2009.
All images courtesy of the author.

Postscript


It is late 2023, a quarter century after my first encounter with Barbie. Due to the war with Ukraine, Western film companies do not distribute movies like Barbie (2023) in Russia; the country’s Culture Ministry insists that the blockbuster hit doesn’t meet the nation’s traditional moral values and wouldn’t allow licenses to screen it anyway. The Ministry of Education had earlier proposed a ban on Barbie and her friends for allegedly being sexually inappropriate, an idea recently echoed by firebrand politicians.

Meanwhile, as I was writing this essay, I received word that my book about the history of fashion exhibitions has been published in translation. The Russian-language cover features Venus de Milo dressed in a suit, wearing sunglasses, a nose ring, and large headphones, all in shades of pink. I didn’t have any input in the design, but I appreciate its subversive ideological undercurrent.

Plus ça change.




Notes: Pink is a Tint of Red

[1] See Duijn, 2019.

[2] I threw out or gave these away about ten years ago, but by kismet, another one found its way to me this year - it was a stowaway in a vintage 1:12 scale dollhouse that I purchased secondhand with the intention of restoring it.

[3] Palmer, 2008: 47-48.

[4] See: Kuther and McDonald 2004; Dittmar, Halliwell, and Ive, 2006; Sherman and Zurbriggen 2014; Nesbitt et al, 2019.

[5] See: Wright, 2003.


Additional References


Aqua. (1997). Barbie Girl [song]. Aquarium. Universal; MCA Records.

Dittmar, H., Halliwell, E., & Ive, S. (2006). Does Barbie make girls want to be thin? The effect of experimental exposure to images of dolls on the body image of 5-to 8-year-old girls. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 283.

Dujin, M. (2019) Journeying to the Golden Spaces of Childhood: Nostalgic Longing in the Online Community The USSR Our Motherland Through the Visual Image of the Soviet Toy. In: Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting the Empire’s Legacies, Edited by Otto Boele, Boris Noordenbos, and Ksenia Robbe, New York: Routledge, pp.21-37.

Gerwig, G. (2023). Barbie [film]. Warner Bros.

Kuther, T. L., & McDonald, E. (2004). Early Adolescents’ experiences with, and views on, Barbie. Adolescence, 39(153).

Nesbitt, A., Sabiston, C. M., deJonge, M., Solomon-Krakus, S., & Welsh, T. N. (2019). Barbie’s new look: Exploring cognitive body representation among female children and adolescents. PloS one, 14(6), e0218315.

Palmer, A. (2008) Untouchable: Creating Desire and Knowledge in Museum Costume and Textile Exhibitions, Fashion Theory, 12:1, 31-63.

Sherman, A. M., & Zurbriggen, E. L. (2014). “Boys can be anything”: Effect of Barbie play on girls’ career cognitions. Sex roles, 70, 195-208.

Wright, L. (2003). The wonder of Barbie: popular culture and the making of female identity. Essays in Philosophy, 4(1), 28-52.





Keira Moore is a PhD Candidate in Textile Technology Management at North Carolina State University. Keira's concentration is Consumer Behavior, with a specialization in Race, Anti-Racism, and Inequality Studies as it relates to marginalized populations purchasing patterns. Specifically, Keira's research sits at the intersection of identity and consumerism and how sociocultural factors ultimately shape the lens through which racialized consumers decide who, what, and where to purchase. Outside of academia, Keira loves indoor cycling, trying new restaurants, and spending time with her cat, Keiko.


Maya Revell (she/her) is a 3rd year PhD Candidate in Environmental Studies, Science, and Policy at the University of Oregon.  She has a focal concentration in Critical and Sociocultural Studies in Education and a secondary concentration in Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies. Broadly, her research focuses on Black relationships to land and water, Black-Indigenous solidarities, and co-creating livable futures.


Alliyah Moore is a first-gen Sociology PhD student at Howard University whose research interests are Black feminist theory, placemaking, and social movements. As an HBCU advocate, she received her B.A. in Political Science from Southern University and A&M College and M.S. in Sociology from Morgan State University. She was a Fellow at the Summer Institute in Anti-Racist and Decolonizing Research 2023. When she's not in class, you’ll find her hiking and photographing the U.S. National Parks.


Barbie, originally a plastic, white, and cisgender female-presenting doll figure, was created on March 9, 1959, to inspire all girls and women to imagine they could be anything. [1] According to Janelle Sessoms’ article titled “Barbie’s Revival of Hype Femininity is the ultimate Act of Feminism,” Barbie represents the ultimate feminist icon and the standard of femininity. [2] The lyrics of Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’  illuminates just that by stating –“I’m a Barbie girl in the Barbie world, Life in plastic, it’s fantastic, You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere, Imagination, life is your creation.” The question presents itself: In a capitalist, cisheteropatriarchal, and colonial context, has the delivery of this message of femininity and inclusivity through the production of Barbie done more harm than good? More specifically, we want to understand how the paradoxical aspects of the film, and the doll that inspired it, affect the subjectivities of viewers of color.

Feminist standpoint theorists have long argued that knowledge is socially situated, that marginalized peoples have unique knowledge due to their socio-political positions, and that attending to power relations in research requires acknowledging marginalized experiences as starting points. [3] Within feminist standpoint theory, Black feminist standpoint scholars have argued that Black women have and produce specialized knowledge about Black women, as this production involves “an interpretation of Black women’s experiences by those who participate in them.” [4][5] Black feminist standpoint epistemologies convey overlapping and tripled oppressions that often go unnoticed, attend to the nuanced subjectivities and experiences of Black women and girls, and hold space to imagine beyond the confines of white supremacist, capitalist, and cisheteropatriarchal societies.

First, as three Black women in the academy, we recognize our privilege to access and share knowledge. By dissecting the film in totality, we investigate its intentionality as we question whether Barbie is an example of a satirical work that encourages audiences to think critically about patriarchal and oppressive structures or a piece that mocks those current social and political structures. Additionally, we investigate anti-Blackness and the depiction of Barbie Land as an ideal feminist utopia. Through our Black feminist standpoint lens, we examine power imbalances impacting marginalized groups through neoliberal policies and practices. By situating Barbieland in the longstanding history of speculative fiction that centers the desires of white audiences through the creation of settler futurities, we aim to show how the utopic premise of Barbie fundamentally disregards and erases the current realities and possible futures of Black, Indigenous, and other racialized women. [6][7] That said, through this reflectional piece, we reflect on how the deeply embedded nature of whiteness shapes our abilities to imagine alternative realities as we urge our readers to create their own.

We analyze the 2023 Barbie-Warner Brothers Production using excerpts and stills from the film that highlight the irresolvable contradictions between the production’s alternative structures and our socio-political realities. Considering these paradoxical elements, we prompt readers to explore the possibilities for Barbie in current societal conditions and reimagine its future outside destruction.


“Thanks to Barbie, all problems of feminism have been solved”
-The Narrator



Following extensive global marketing, Barbie fans eagerly anticipated the Turbo-Charged release of Barbie, the film—for some an opportunity to relive childhood memories, for others to create new ones with friends and family. According to Sessoms, “Playing with Barbie told us that girls could do anything, and we didn't have to sacrifice our societally constructed understanding of "girlhood" to get there.”[2] However, the movie left some viewers questioning the intentional, binary constructions of feminism and womanhood and the pronounced contradictions of the portrayal of several intersections. Below, we explore some of our own such reactions to the film, individually and in conversation with one another.

First, Alliyah Moore begins to delve into her own uncertainty with director Greta Gerwig’s presentation of modern, intersectional feminism. Secondly, Keira Moore reflects on the invisibility Black and Brown women face in relation to their lived experiences in the modern world of “color blindness” and the insidious new face of American racism. Next, Maya Revell questions how the film’s portrayal of humanity relies on the exclusion of Black and Brown people, particularly women, and their experiences in the world. The authors conclude by emphasizing the film's denouement and advocating for a more realistic and impartial perspective, enabling readers to envision their own conclusion.


Image courtesy IMDB Media Index. 

Alliyah’s standpoint


I cannot help but think that I am not the target viewer for Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. For birthdays and Christmases, I received Bratz dolls and their assortment of branded merchandise. Although I was only seven and did not wear heavy eye makeup and platformed, chunky boots, I still saw myself represented in the Bratz line-up (My favorite Bratz doll was Sasha, of course). I was not a Barbie girl. So when the Barbie movie was initially announced, I was appropriately disinterested. During premiere week, social media was buzzing with fans expressing having already seen it multiple times and commentary on how its profound and thought-provoking messages moved them to tears. With its bold marketing and pink merchandising, the movie became hard to ignore, and I wanted to know what all the hype was about. 

The opening scene of Barbie pays homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. In a desolate wasteland, little girls are playing with baby dolls, while the narrator remarks that this has been common since the beginning of time. Suddenly, a giant, original 1959 version of Barbie (Margot Robbie) in a black and white striped swimsuit appears, leaving the children in awe. In fits of rejection, they destroy and throw away their baby dolls. Rightfully so—who wouldn’t want a new toy? But visibly missing from the scene are racially marginalized little girls, specifically Black girls. Given the dramatic start of the film, I began to wonder if this erasure or exclusion of little Black girls was intentional. The broader social context in which the movie was written and produced focuses on the issues and experiences of white, middle-class women, often neglecting or downplaying the unique struggles faced by women of color and other marginalized groups. From the film’s start, are we expected to take note of exclusion? Is this film meant to critique white feminism and, therefore, itself? I went into the theater apprehensive about supporting a feminist culture icon, and this opening scene set the tone for further exploration of the intentional lack of intersectionality in Barbie’s world and beyond.


Keira: “Alliyah, thank you for sharing. You bring up a good point in referencing the intentionality of the film. Can you further explain what other movie elements suggest that it intentionally disregards racial boundaries, thus providing an unrealistic portrayal of present society?”

To gain a deeper understanding of the intentionality of a film and what filmmakers aim to achieve, there are crucial elements to examine. Analyzing a film’s plot and storyline helps us understand the central narrative and its themes. What message is the film trying to convey? Is it focused on character development, a specific event, or a broader social issue? In this case, the Barbie movie offered a surface-level critique of patriarchy and an entry-level introduction to feminism. Not surprisingly, it used the core tenets of white feminism to critique the patriarchy. There was no intersectional offering of how patriarchy affects the most marginalized in our society. Sasha's monologue is the only sprinkle of pushback towards society as a whole. She expresses how Barbie's existence has “...set the feminist movement back fifty years,” even mentioning how Barbie is a fascist who represents unrealistic beauty standards.

Barbie was not a grand societal critique. The time period, social issues, and cultural influences shape a film's intention and relevance. We must consider how the film engages with its intended audience. Is it meant to entertain, provoke thought, elicit emotion, or challenge viewers? The intended audience and their reactions can reveal a film's purpose. In the real world, outside of Gerwig’s speculative Barbie Land, marginalized women, girls, and non-binary people levy criticism on white women and their feminist beliefs, values, and ideologies. To engage with intersectionality, the movie would have also had to critique white feminism. Therefore, the premise of the movie would not have worked. After its release, women, especially young white women, praised this film as the latest feminist Magnus Opus. I, however, could have stayed home. But at least the popcorn was delicious.


Image courtesy IMDB Media Index.

Keira’s standpoint


Growing up as a little Black girl in the South, I vividly remember being exposed to the actual Barbie doll. It was an unspoken shared belief that these dolls represented beauty and feminine standards. They were mothers; they cooked and cleaned. They were well-dressed, well-kempt, and nested in this ideology of perfection. Also, most of the time, they were white women. My perception was shaped by Barbie’s supposed representation of the epitome of beauty. At one point, I thought the term “Barbie doll” applied to all dolls. It wasn’t until my introduction to a Bratz doll and its racial diversity that I became aware that dolls (and people) do not have to adhere to conventional American beauty standards. Bratz dolls impacted my Black childhood viewpoint and those of other racially disparate children.

That said, I was reluctant to see Barbie, as it honestly held little importance to me and my Black identity. Against my own judgment, I took myself on a solo date to see Barbie. Initially, I stood out like a sore thumb. I was the only Black woman in the theater, AND I didn’t wear pink (oops). As I watched the movie, I shifted through an array of emotions, with one sticking out to me the most: feeling left out. Like with pop culture phenomena implicit aimed at a white consumer audience, “I can’t relate to this,” I would think to myself. My Blackness and my experiences were invisible in this film, which I saw as perpetuating new/modern racism and colorblind narratives.

To provide context, Sniderman defines new racism is subtle, less abrasive, and more appealing, as race is not the center of marginalized disparities. [8] The term ‘new’ in this context signifies evolving methods of discrimination that are more convert and systemic compared to the historical overt forms of racism (i.e., colonialism, slavery, and Jim Crow Laws).  This is evident in America Ferrera’s “empowering” monologue. The focus relied heavily on the gender binary, man and woman, with no acknowledgment of race, a component that has molded my own [Black] daily experiences. America begins by saying, “It is literally impossible to be a woman.” But what kind of woman? The narrator states, “Barbie is all these women. And all these women are Barbie.” The grouping of all women’s lived experiences is inaccurate and controversial. Moreover, the movie's white racial framing persistently challenges racial boundaries by unintentionally asserting that all women, irrespective of their intersectional identities, are fundamentally homogeneous.

Maya: “Thank you for sharing your experience, Keira. Your focus on new racism prompts me to consider how different experiences of oppression can be weaponized to silence the experiences of other communities, particularly those with intersectional identities. This dynamic occurs significantly between white feminism and feminist theories from women and queer people of color. Could you elaborate on the tensions within America Ferrera’s monologue?”

Upon revisiting America Ferrera's (Gloria's) monologue, I pondered the question I stated earlier, "What kind of woman?". In an attempt to derive a fresh significance from this piece, I added the term "Black" before "woman," resulting in the statement, "It is literally impossible to be a [Black] woman." Although this resonated with me on a personal level, I am aware that the film's original statement conflicts with my own principles, as it disregards the intentional neglect of my racial identity and forces me to align my experiences with those of all other women.

A common recurring theme in this film and all media exposure is disregarding the significance of race. Wilson argued in 1980 that race essentially was no longer an extreme determining factor in the lived experiences of Black Americans. [9] This assertion runs parallel to colorblindness and modern ideologies of racism. Moreover, this simplistic mindset has been contradicted by the realities individuals are confronting in the 2020s. Consequently, this monologue ignores how oppressive structures perpetuate unequal power dynamics, thus silencing the voices of marginalized communities (in this specific context, Black women). Black women have been viewed through an intersectional lens as individuals who experience the “double burden” of gendered racism. [10] American culture and society continue to expand upon its foundation of institutionalized marginalization. While this film (intentionally or unintentionally) mirrors society, the apparent aggregation of women’s experiences as all women’s experiences is not only ignorant but irresponsible, as this film is attempting to encompass the manifestations of inequality that persist in America.

Image courtesy IMDB Media Index.

Maya’s standpoint


At the moment that Barbie asked if becoming human was just a process of discovery, I felt the tension in my hands subside. It was not that I was satisfied with the movie; it was quite the opposite. Instead, this moment validated my initial expectations of how questions of what it means to be human would play out in the theater. Coming into the movie, I was still determining what to expect from Barbie. I had never been into Barbie growing up. Still, the barrage of media coverage and testimonials from viewers and friends who felt that Barbie was “the movie of our time” and a “true and complex representation of feminism” persuaded me to go. Throughout the film, I made note of the film’s contradictory stances on environmental and climate degradation and its predictable turn toward Black and Brown women artists and entertainers to promote the movie. However, I was disturbed by this notion that “being human” is just a matter of self-actualization through simplistic visual representations of empathy, joy, and delight. Why must we turn away from feelings of anger, rage, and grief in our descriptions of humanity? How does this turn dismiss the work of Black and Brown feminists who have long described rage and anguish as productive for establishing ethical solidarities, building empathy across lines of difference, and working against white supremacy and racial capitalism. [11][12][13] 

I was not expecting an intersectional engagement, a discussion of anti-Blackness or anti-Indigeneity, but this scene felt too predictable. Instead of this aim to center a utopian vision of feminism through Stereotypical Barbie, I wonder what new possibilities could be opened and what alternative discourses could be taken up through an engagement with the ongoing entanglements of anti-Indigeneity, anti-Blackness, and climate and ecological degradation. As I looked around the theater at the (white) bodies crying, cheering, and clapping at the screen, I felt my stomach churn.

Alliyah: “I love all of this, Maya. You mention taking ‘note of the film’s contradictory stances on environmental and climate degradation.’ Can you further discuss how this plays out in the movie? And what would an acknowledgment of this degradation look like in Barbie Land, or in Gerwig’s world-building?”

Early in the film, viewers watch Lawyer Barbie make a compelling argument that corporations are not people and thus should be held liable for the damages and impacts of their practices. I completely agree with this and recognize that the film did little to acknowledge Mattel’s own historical and ongoing environmental/climate impacts. While the film did bring in discontinued Barbies to show their missteps in terms of feminism, such as the pregnant Barbie, Video Girl Barbie, and the satirical Sugar Daddy Ken, it disregarded Mattel’s environmental sustainability errors, such as past issues with deforestation and plastic pollution. I question what it would look like for Barbie to present these environmental stories alongside their narratives of

Barbie is transformative. Engaging with the work of Indigenous, Black, and Decolonial feminisms as well as intersectional eco-feminisms can enable a generative read of Mattel as a corporation while also pointing out the limitations of any sustainability discourse that does not view colonialism and anti-Blackness as central to the issues of ecological degradation.


“Humans Only Have One Ending. Ideas Live Forever”
-Ruth Handler



As three Black women, we are familiar with having our stories written for us and our images controlled. We have not been afforded access, forcing us to fight for representation and the accurate storytelling of our experiences. Barbie, a film that centers on femininity and womanhood, has misrepresented the Black woman by situating the story in systemic frameworks of subjugation. Regardless of intentionality, Black women, and other racially marginalized women, may view this film with slight resentment and distaste. We took advantage of our ability to create freely and embarked on the task of reimaging the Barbie ending. This allows for us to reconceptualize, for alternative narratives to unfold, and for new resolutions to take shape.

Here, we used the first half of the original transcript of the ending of Barbie in which she becomes human. We felt this was a vital point in the film’s ending for the narrative to be modified. That said, we focused on real-life situations that drastically impact Black and Brown women’s lives. This reiteration allows space for subjectivity and for the reader to create their own personal and realistic ending.


Alternative ending


Barbie: So, being human’s not something I need to… ask for or even want? I can just…It’s something that I just discover I am?

Ruth: I can’t in good conscience let you take this leap without you knowing what it means.

Take my hands.

Now close your eyes.

[wind blowing]

[pensive music playing]

Now feel.

[wind blowing]

[Interspersed visuals flash on the screen: 

A young child gleefully blowing bubbles.

The scene pans out to communities of people vehemently protesting the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade with “Black Lives Matter” chanting in the background.

As the audio and visual fade out, Barbie sees a scene of a newborn crying while a family rejoices. The scene is abruptly replaced by a similar scene—this time, a Black family mourns as the rates of Black maternal mortality rate across the screen.

The sounds of crying reduce, and the scene pans to a series of news headlines of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

As the headlines fade, the scene shifts between interviews and images of women organizing and mobilizing against the Supreme Court and supporting reproductive justice. Parallel to this scene, we see Black and Brown women hosting community-wide mutual aid events.

The scene zooms in, darkens, and begins to ripple. Barbie sees a pod of Orca whales swimming through the Pacific Ocean.

As the pod disappears from the screen, images of wildfires, massive flooding, and smoke are layered over and across the image. Abruptly, media images of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk appear with “Space Race” as the headline.

Finally, the visuals go completely black.

Slowly, different faces appear and multiply on the screen. Flashing across the screen are visuals of people—of all races and ethnicities—having varied experiences: joyful, mourning, angry, laughing, loving, nostalgic, frustrated, numb, lonely, content, and grieving.

Silence.]

Black Feminist Narrator: Barbie did not see herself presented in those images. She is confused and has no idea how to navigate her experiences as a white woman, especially with this new acknowledgment of her identity.

[Barbie hesitates]

Barbie: I… How do I fit into this? Is this my reality, too?

Ruth: Barbie, this is the real world, and these are tangible realities. Now that you know, it is up to you to make a conscious decision.

Black Feminist Narrator: So, Barbie was left questioning her position in the current American society as “stereotypical Barbie.” Will she decide to sacrifice her pink, feminist utopia for the unparalleled horrors of America or continue to bask in Barbie Land?


Notes: Hi, Barbie!

[1] In efforts to maintain our decolonial agenda, the authors intentionally do not captialize the “w” in white. However, the “b” in Black is capitalized to challenge the historical dehumanization of a marginalized group we are a part of and to highlight that Black and Blackness serve as proper nouns.

[2] Sessoms, J. (2023, August 2). ‘Barbie’s revival of Hyper Femininity is the ultimate act of feminism,’ L’Officiel USA. https://www.lofficielusa.com/fashion/barbie-hyper-femininity-ultimate-act-of-feminism-coquettecore-bimbocore

[3] Haraway, D. (1988) ‘Situated knowledge: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective,’ Feminist Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 575–600

[4] Hill Collins, P. (1990) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Empowerment and the Politics of Consciousness. London: Unwin Hyman

[5] Reynolds, T. (2002) Re-thinking a black feminist standpoint, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25:4, 591-606, DOI: 10.1080/01419870220136709

[6] O’Neill, C. (2021). ‘Towards an Afrofuturist Feminist Manifesto,’ In: Butler, P. (eds) Critical Black Futures. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-7880-9_4

[7] Kilgore, D. (2020). ‘This Time for Africa! Afrofuturism as Alternate (American) History,’ in Literary afrofuturism in the twenty-first century. Essay, The Ohio State University Press. 

[8] Sniderman, P. M., Piazza, T., Tetlock, P. E., & Kendrick, A. (1991). “The new racism,” American Journal of Political Science, 423-447

[9]Wilson, J.W., (1980). The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions. University of Chicago Press.


[10] Jean, Y. S., & Feagin, J. R. (1997). Double Burden: Black Women and Everyday Racism. ME Sharpe.
[11] Lorde, A. (1981). ‘Keynote Address: The NWSA Convention. The Uses of Anger,’ Women's Studies Quarterly 9, no. 3 (1981): 7–10.

[12] King, T. L. (2019). The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies. Duke University Press.

[13] Nash, J. C., & Pinto, S. (2021). ‘A new genealogy of “Intelligent rage,” or other ways to think about white women in feminism,’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 46(4), 883–910. https://doi.org/10.1086/71329




Zara Korutz is a New York City-based adjunct professor, host of Unbiased Label podcast, and Fashion Studies PhD Candidate at Massey University, New Zealand. She earned an MA in Fashion Critical Studies (with Distinction, 2020) from Central Saint Martins, London, U.K. Zara researches Virgil Abloh as the prototype of a new art-centered fashion designer looking at streetstyle as a reaction against mainstream society as it pertains to intersectional concepts of masculinities. For more information, www.zarakorutz.com

Zara Korutz, Fashion Studies PhD Researcher at Massey University and host of Unbiased Label podcast, in conversation with Frank New, who is a New York-based Barbie collector and academic, through a queer lens. Frank received a Master of Arts in Costume Studies at New York University and travels the globe sharing their Barbie research. Zara and Frank chatted on a late Spring day in the recording studio located on Iona University campus.

ZK: Hi, Frank.

FN: Hello, Zara.

ZK: One of my favorite people.

FN: Back at you.

ZK: We're in the studio today. We've got all these Barbies. It's really quite lovely.

FN: Thank you. Thank you. You know, I have Barbies. Will travel. Thank you so much for having me.

ZK: I'm thrilled. You have no idea. You're known as the Barbie collector. When did this start?

FN: I suppose my fascination around Barbie began as a child, sort of very innocently. I didn't own any Barbies of my own, and I am quite sure that I was forever forbidden to own such things. My father was a person that had very toxic masculinity ideals, if you will. So, my doll play always resulted in being at a friend's place and playing with her dolls in secret. And then those years being compacted with toxic ideals from my father that “boys do this, boys do that”, but you don't do this, and you don't ever do that sort of thing, you know? So, I never dared bring up the idea of owning a doll.

ZK: That's because playing with Barbies as a boy was equated to being gay. And being gay was a bad thing.

FN: Totally, very much. My father made it very clear that I was supposed to carry on the family name, I'm to get married. Uh, he had this whole life built out in his head of what I was supposed to do. He comes from a military background.  I was supposed to enlist in the army and do the army way of life and, you know, maybe become an engineer or something, and truth is, he was in denial because it's always been very obvious of my sexuality. I've never been able to sort of hide that and coming out as a teenager, no one was really surprised, you know? Which is a good and bad thing.

ZK: You played with Barbies as a child?

FN: Yes. So, I played with Barbies secretly as a child. Secretly, in my very good friend's garage, and sort of left it there, and that's where the Barbie play stayed for the most part. I kind of left it behind and didn't revisit Barbie until my thirties.

ZK: Oh, wow. That's a big leap. What was the impetus to revisit Barbie?

FN: I feel like it was one of those things that really never left me, but it was one of those things where I had to really work through a lot of childhood trauma—things that I dealt with in my twenties and getting through that and coming out on the other side of that being at a place where I was starting to get comfortable in my skin. It was random. I was at a housing works and there was a Burberry Barbie that sparked my attention and caught my eye and it really started with that, that one Barbie.

ZK: It sounds like this was a reconnecting of your youth.

FN: Very much so. Oh yeah, that one doll kind of sparked the curiosity again, and then getting into the master's program at NYU, the passion around doll collecting really took off.

ZK: Did you enter NYU with the aim of academically studying Barbie?

FN: Not exactly. In the first semester, the final project was writing a submission for an actual call for papers. And initially I thought my research path was going to be somewhere around drag culture and that shifted to Barbie but telling the queer story of Barbie. So, it just kind of morphed into that call for papers, which from there just began the research path that I have followed over the last few years. I've gotten to travel the world and talk about Queer Barbie, which is just wild and crazy.




ZK: How many Barbies do you have now?

FN: I would say somewhere between 300 and 400.

ZK: That's a lot of Barbies. You're not only a collector, but you're an academic researcher. I find that very interesting because you're looking at Barbie from a very deep lens, and specifically through the queer lens.

FN: Yes. My thesis for my master's program revolved around a queer collection of Barbies that were designed by queer people. So, Bob Mackey, Billy Boy, the Blondes, Jeremy Scott, and the first half of my research and my thesis tells the story of each of these people—essentially the story behind the box. You see the box, you see the name, but that's really all you get. So, in my research I go into the details of the individual and their relationship with Barbie and how it molded their own brands. So outside of that, I tend to like to gravitate towards the odd or the weird sort of Barbies, if you will.

ZK: I'm shocked.

FN: Yes, no surprise there. I have, like, this Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Barbie and Kool-Aid Barbie; those are the ones that I'm really drawn to. The ones that are a little wacky and weird. It's interesting when you look at some of the Barbies that have come out since 1959 and quite a few of them make you go, like, ‘how was that ever approved?’ You know, Barbie has a long history of just getting it right and, like, almost getting it right.

ZK:  What do you mean by that?

FN: Well, there was a Barbie doll that came out that included a scale that was set at like 110 pounds. It also came with a book and it was written on the back of the book, “do not eat”. It's things like that that make you go, ’how did that get passed?’ That's kind of the history of Barbie. Barbie is always related to whatever's happening in the world from fashion to women's rights. With the one doll that I have here that's from ’61—the face mold, the eyes are grazing the floor and she's looking to the side. That really was speaking to those times when women were not at the forefront. They were housewives so that's really what that face mold is referring to the nature of women's roles at that time. And then the seventies when it was all about women's activism and rights. The face mode for Barbie changed and she's looking directly at you and she's not looking at the floor.

ZK: That's powerful.

FN: Yeah. Definitely. And that's a short time to come a long way, for sure. And you look at Barbie's growth in the last 10 years, it's just been tremendous. We just saw the first Barbie that was designed with Down Syndrome, which is just amazing to see how the Barbie brand is really adapting to the times in ways that Barbie has never been this progressive.  But at the same time, when Ruth Handler designed and created Barbie with that nature in mind of progressiveness.

Frank in the studio with some members of his collection.

ZK: Right, right. And I think that in and of itself says a lot about women in general and having to fight for equality and to present themselves in a world where they can become an astronaut, a doctor, a dancer, or whatever.

FN: Exactly. And not just be a doll to be stared at but to be something. No longer just a doll that is of a nurturing nature which was the only doll in existence before Barbie. It was nothing like Barbie in the US before that time. Ruth Handler was flat out told ‘Barbie will never sell.’ The men around her were like, ‘you're gonna fall flat on your face.’ And she was the only woman in a sea of men that was really unheard of her role at the time. But she was determined. Almost instantly upon its launch, Barbie took off. Barbie is what made Mattel into the company that it is.

ZK: The designers that you mentioned, Jeremy Scott, Mackey, the Blondes. They've designed for Barbie, but they've also, I'm thinking of Jeremy Scott, used Barbie in their own collections.

FN: Absolutely, yes.

ZK: And we have BarbieCore, the Barbie movie. The cultural capital that this doll holds globally is phenomenal.

FN: Yes. And you're seeing it in more and more places. From paint lines to rugs, to wallpaper, candles. It is just expanding in ways that it has never expanded before.

ZK: What's the reason for that, do you think?

FN: I really think it has to do with the big shift in Barbie that happened a few years ago. I feel the changing of the body types broadened the opportunity in so many different categories. I feel prior to that shift, Barbie was very much set in this old format, if you will, and I feel that once the company moved past that so many things started to unfold. A year after the change in the body types we saw a Creatable World come out, which was the world's first gender-neutral doll line made by the same Barbie team but it's kept under a different division because it's a very different doll that is geared towards a very different market. This speaks to the times of having this gender-neutral doll which is very much needed. We're seeing more of that, less labels, and progressive in nature.

ZK: Yeah, it's really great. Let's talk about your Barbies. These are part of your personal collection?

FN: Yes. These are from my personal collection. So, we have Earring Magic Ken that is known as the accidental queer doll, if you will. It has some risqué accessories.



ZK: When did he come out?

FN: Around 1993 and was banned from the shelves after 10 or 12 weeks or so. But it is noted as likely being one of the best-selling Ken dolls ever sold. This one was bought by a lot of queer men across the country who felt that for the first time they were seeing themselves sort of in this doll.

ZK: What made this doll queer?

FN: Yeah, so it's the first Ken that was done with blonde hair—it's molded. He's wearing a lilac pleather vest with a lilac mesh cropped top, and a necklace that is a silver thread with a very thick round hoop that has been referred to as a cock ring. There's no way around that. Within my research, I wrote a lot about this in terms of queer club culture, and this was a very big accessory in queer club kids in the early nineties.

ZK: The cock ring?

FN: Yes. Wearing it as an accessory just like this, which is why Mattel was called out because that's exactly what it looks like. And in my research, I referenced photos and you see this in club kids wearing this around their neck. They're wearing it on bracelets, they're wearing it on their clothing, and everywhere but where it was intended to be.

ZK: So, this came out in the early nineties?

FN: Yes.

ZK: Number one bestselling queer Ken doll.

FN: Yes.

ZK: Pulled off the shelves because of the cock ring?

FN: Yes. And the general nature of the doll.

ZK: How could they miss that? It seems very obvious

FN: You know. It's… it's a burning question on many of our lips.


Photo by Frank New.
ZK: Okay. So, what else do we have?

FN: So, the other doll that we have here is the Feeling Groovy Barbie. She's from the late eighties. She's designed by Billy Boy and Billy Boy is the first designer to have his name on the box, so that's a neat fact.  Billy Boy designed two Barbies. This one and also this one, which related to the 26th year anniversary of Barbie and was designed as part of a traveling train tour that went around France highlighting Barbie and a Miniature World setting with all sorts of designers that were included in making designs for Barbie.

ZK: Love her chunky jewelry.

FN:  A direct reference to Billy Boy, who is multifaceted. He made jewelry. He made clothing and the jewelry are almost direct miniature replicas of his own from his own personal collection.

ZK: Oh, that's interesting. It's fabulous.

FN: And then this last one that we have here on display, she is probably my most prized possession. She is part of the original bubble cut series from the early sixties. She's around ‘61, ‘62.


Some of Frank’s Barbies, including the Billy Boy dolls he writes more about in his piece in this issue.

“You know, Barbie has a long history of just getting it right and, like, almost getting it right.”

ZK: She looks great. She hasn't aged a day.

FN: She hasn't aged a day. And you can see the original face mold where her eyes looked to the side and graze the floor, which is, you know, again, like we talked about, is a direct representation of the time. And it wasn't until the seventies that that face mold was changed to reflect the change in times. Yeah. That's incredible. And this is a lovely doll case box that she is housed in. That is also from the sixties as well. That's great.

ZK: Are you saying that this is your favorite Barbie?

FN: I definitely have a few favorites. I would say she falls in the category of my most prized possession when it comes to Barbies, just because of her age. She's really like the OG. She's the original from the very beginning so she kind of falls into her own category. I was able to acquire this lovely one in the condition that she's in—overall pretty good condition. Look at her hair, it is molded and it's not going anywhere. I have a few, I would say, favorites.

ZK: There's so much to learn about. Not just the doll, but what she represents.

FN: Yes. Having had the opportunity to travel globally and present at conferences on my research, one of the most common things that I hear in terms of feedback is “I had no idea” and then it goes into these conversations of the history of Barbie. Most have a very general idea of Barbie's history. A lot of what you see, on the surface, there's been so much done on Barbie from a feminist point of view, but when it comes to telling the queer story of Barbie most people are surprised that there is this side of Barbie.

ZK: You and I are in agreement on this. The queer story often gets left out of pop culture, yet queerness is everywhere in pop culture.

FN: Exactly. And there's nothing that I have written about that was hidden.

ZK: It's hiding in plain sight.

FN: Bingo. Bingo. Yes, exactly. And that's why I really cherish this research path. I really see that there is a need to tell this story. This one-sided view that most people have of this doll are now learning about this whole other side of Barbie that no one ever knew about. And I think that's really cool and for me that's really the point of doing this research. What drives my research is telling this story that seems to not be known in any shape or form.

ZK: It's so important and the impact of your research is so needed in this world. So, thank you for your passion. Love you.

FN: Happy to be here. Love you back.


Issue 13 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Politics
Issue 12 ︎︎︎ Border Garments: Fashion, Feminisms, & Disobedience

Issue 11 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Digital Engagement
Issue 10 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Partnership

Issue 9 ︎︎︎ Fall 2021

Issue 8 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Mental Health

Issue 7 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Motherhood

Issue 6 ︎︎︎ Fall 2020

Issue 5 ︎︎︎ The Industry

Issue 4 ︎︎︎ Summer 2017

Issue 3 ︎︎︎ Spring 2017

Issue 2 ︎︎︎ Winter 2016

Issue 1 ︎︎︎ Fall 2016


Issue 13 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Politics



Issue 11 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Digital Engagement


Issue 10 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Partnership


Issue 9 ︎︎︎ Fall 2021


Issue 8 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Mental Health


Issue 7 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Motherhood


Issue 6 ︎︎︎ Fall 2020


Issue 5 ︎︎︎ The Industry


Issue 4 ︎︎︎ Summer 2017


Issue 3 ︎︎︎ Spring 2017


Issue 2 ︎︎︎ Winter 2016


Issue 1 ︎︎︎ Fall 2016