Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone

Tanya Lee Stone's The Good, The Bad and The Barbie deserves all the love it's getting.  Stone's a great writer and writes the kind of non-fiction that kids will read for fun.  This book mines a rich vein since Barbie dolls have been so iconic and yet controversial in our culture.  Stone gives us the history of both the doll and of the points of view surrounding the image of womanhood she represents.  The two things about The Good, The Bad and The Barbie that I found most interesting were the anecdotes of how people had played with their Barbies as children, and the way various artists and film-makers have used her as creative inspiration.  Did you know that there is an annual Altered Barbie Exhibition in San Francisco each year, which "includes music, films, and performance art, as well as paintings and sculpture"?  Wild.

Here are some of my favourite quotes and images from the book:

"My neighbor and I always had Barbie parties together because she had a ton of them, including a princess Barbie.  At least, I thought she was a princess, but it's hard to tell because she was always missing her clothes.  We usually ended up marrying her and were both her wives.  It's kind of funny that as a child, a polygamist, nudist, homosexual lifestyle was obviously the best one, and I doubt anyone could have convinced me otherwise."

"How did I--the daughter of a feminist and working woman, myself a future with my Barbie?  I took off all her clothes and sent her looking for love.  My Barbie got around...and it wasn't just me.  To walk into the bedroom of any of my Barbie-owning friends when I was little was to face a sordid truth.  'You want to play Barbie?' she would ask innocently and gesture.  Off in the corner--a bucket of large-breasted, pants-less women."

"Our naked Barbie collection did not go completely unnoticed.  At four, my son, who was not allowed to have a toy gun, found the treasures.  When he was playing with friends, he'd grab a naked Barbie, bend her at the waist, and shoot."

 Brooklyn artist Margaux Lange uses dismembered Barbie body parts to create a Plastic Body jewellery line, which has been showcased in galleries and museums.

Queen-Size Barb is an altered doll by Deborah Colotti, whose fascination with Barbies has led to a whole series of altered dolls.  She says, "Rather than trying to make myself as frozen and superficial as a doll, I decided to make Barbie more like me." 

I've just discovered that if you do a google image search on "altered barbie" you can come up with some pretty weird stuff.  Crucified Barbie, anyone? Zombie Barbie?  "Kiss" (the rock group) Barbie?  How do people get these ideas, anyway?
But I must admit I quite liked this one--"Take Flight" Barbie by Christine Webb. 

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