I had to feign (some) resistance when a friend suggested we should go and watch ‘’Barbie’’ the movie. I was actually curious to see how and why the film had netted so much money at the box office.
I found the film pleasant and very intelligently crafted, not only from an entertaining point of view (costumes and music in particular) but also because it used two very strong emotional elements.
The first, almost obvious one, is the nostalgia effect, aimed at the baby boomers’ generation.
The second one is women’s empowerment in a male-dominated society. And so, we see Barbie, accompanied by Ken, leaving ‘’Barbie’s world’’ to move into the real world only to discover that men run everything, and women are only supposed to be seen and not heard. This is a duality that the film explores in-depth, albeit often with a wry smile.
The movie also feeds into the legend that Ruth Handler, president for 30 years and co-founder with her husband of Mattel, invented Barbie and named it after their daughter, Barbara.
Apparently, she had seen her daughter playing with cut-out paper dolls and realised that, up to then, dolls (for girls) were only imagined as babies to feed and cuddle or housewives. It was 1959, the first feminist wave was in the air, and Barbie was born: adult body, limitless wardrobe, a boyfriend who is little more than an accessory, in short, the image of an independent woman with ambitions to look up to.
The real version is that Ruth Handler went to Europe in 1956 and discovered an ‘’adult’’ doll named Bild Lilli (used to appear in humorous vignettes in Bild magazine), sold in Germany since 1955. She brought three dolls back to America, and Mattel started to produce Barbie. They were eventually taken to court for plagiarism and ended up buying the rights in 1964. Barbie made Mattel’s fortune.
My daughters played with Barbies (although their ‘’craze’’ was Cabbage Patch dolls, do you remember them?), and my granddaughters still do today. Barbie is not only a doll; it is part of our culture and the epochal changes that our (western) society has gone through since the Sixties.
The revival of Barbie could not be complete without revisiting how the design, and concept have changed in the years. To fill this gap, the Design Museum has recently announced a Barbie exhibition for July 2024, when Barbie will be 65. I have to say, a very well-preserved pensioner!
The exhibition will open on the 5th of July 2024 and will explore Barbie’s history through a design lens, looking at fashion, architecture, furniture, and vehicles related to the doll.
Il Circolo is proud to be a Patron of the Design Museum