The world premiere of Black Barbie: A documentary was at SXSW in March of 2023, several months before the massive BARBIE movie takeover later that year in July. The documentary focused on the absence of color in the Barbie doll world and how several key women worked behind the scenes to make sure women of color were included in the fantasy world of the doll that inspired generations of young girls across the world.
Filmmaker Lagueria Davis addressed her own lack of interest in dolls as a young girl by speaking to the lack of representation within Mattel. Her great aunt, Beulah Mae Mitchell was one of the first Mattel employees that set out to change the exclusive culture and to find a way to insert Black culture in the world of Barbie.
The problems with Barbie are much bigger than just alienating women of color. Studies proved that Barbie set unrealistic standards for girls in relation to body image. The doll’s measurements were exaggerated and unrealistic, which ultimately contributed to subtle self-esteem issues in young girls. In 2014 the Daily Mail published a study comparing Barbie’s measurements in comparison to a “real” woman’s measurements. For example, Barbie has a waist hip ratio of .56, meaning her waist measurement is 56% of her him circumference. The average woman has a waist hip ratio of .80. Barbie’s legs are 50% longer than her arms in comparison to the average woman’s legs which are only 20% longer than her arms. (Not to mention, Barbie’s legs are remarkably thinner with a noticeable thigh gap that is not anatomically possible on average women. It was noted that if Barbie could transition into a “real woman” she would be unable to lift her head because it would be disproportionately larger than her neck. Her 16-inch waist would be four inches thinner than her head meaning she’d only have half a liver and virtually no room for intestines. Ultimately Barbie would not be able to transition from the toy aisle to real life like Margot Robbie.
While the impossibility of Barbie is no secret, there remains a fascination with the possibility of a natural woman coming as close as possible to the infamous doll or at the very least being able to assume her lifestyle. Barbie has perfect girlfriends with the perfect car, house and of course significant other. Barbie’s existence is the hashtag #goals for Instagram worthy posts.
Today, filters have replaced photoshop not to mention the current AI craze and obsession with creating fantasy-driven examples of us, it’s no surprise that the BARBIE movie, a theatrical celebration of idealized perfection, was the undisputed hit of 2023. Earning over $400 million dollars in the first two weeks, the Warner Brothers release featuring a blonde-haired Margot Robbie transitioning from plastic perfection to an idealistic woman is easily one of the biggest hits since the pandemic. Today’s culture worships the delusion of perfection, on the altar of social media by any means necessary.
In ‘The Perfectionism Trap: How to avoid burn out, anxiety and stress’ psychologists suggest the rise of social media and it’s stylized, cropped version of other people’s lives, tumultuous job markets, an unpredictable economy and more have all lead to a worrisome upward trend. This burdensome yet popular idea of perfectionism can lead to mental health issues, eating disorder and even suicide.
Watching groups of Black and Brown girls and women don candy pink outfits, complete with weaves and wigs styled like the blue-eyed, blonde haired Barbie doll suggests Beulah Mae Mitchell and the other Black women who fought so hard to make the Barbie world more inclusive were successful. It also suggests that fewer of us are fighting for representation in a landscape so consumed with perfection that we’ve lost touch with how important our Black reality is.