The Barbie Revolution

The iconic American Barbie doll has gone through several transformations since her release in March 1959 by American businesswoman Ruth Handler, from beauty divas to the current trendy line for children called I Can Be..Barbie. However between all these years the image that stirred the most controversy was upon the release of the 500- limited edition Burkha Barbie dolls in November of 2009 in England at a Sotheby’s auction, sponsored as charity for children.  The controversy heightened as the ban on the full body veil in France was being discussed and implemented, leading to parents of millions of girls globally addressing the garb as being a moral appearance of modesty and cultural diversity for many, whereas for others being a doubly subjugated image of an unattainable body further oppressed by the Muslim veil.The Muslim veil today has raised a length of questions and concerns in both the East and the West. Western influence and impositions are questioned globally in means of readdressing what are ancient cultures and traditions and what needs to be maintained and what needs to be readdressed. Are Eastern traditions being monopolized by Eurocentric views? The issue of the veil however, today, is not only addressed through women’s choices over the veil, but through dolls as well. Toys that we as children grow up playing with, construct our manner of thinking regarding what is correct and acceptable and what is incorrect and un- acceptable.The Barbie is a revolutionary doll in the face of a multi- million dollar corporation, and being one of the most heavily purchased doll in the world starring as a cultural icon of not only America but of India, China amongst various other countries. The question arises, where does this controversy lead our children? Does religious and cultural propaganda and ethnically stereotyped discrimination burden children and families or assist in forming opinions of diversity and global history? As a South Asian feminist artist, emerging from a patriarchal society, the issue deems of vital discussion.  This paper analysis and deconstructs the issue from the perspective of the role that art plays in attempting to provide audiences with alternate views of cultural and ethnic stereotyping and its affects on children and families globally.These learned and trained traits/ values that are taught to children through toys have become highly debated. Are these trained values; one promising to provide ample freedom but subjects the feminine body to the subjugation of the male gaze and desire, whereas the other, vows for girls to retain their modesty equally subject girls to fit the norm defined by patriarchy? As an artist, I hope for the Barbie Revolution series to raise questions on the diversity of culture, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the diversity of commodification of a toy such as the Barbie doll? Is there any agency involved in these representations of the American Barbie doll and the Muslim veil, and what new questions arise when these two elements are juxtaposed together? Similar to the harems of the Islamic East, are the arguments that are raised by feminist, writer and sociologist Fatima Mernissi valid on the haremization of the idealized Western beauty? Finalizing on whether the struggles to end commodification of women’s bodies ever possible? This is an investigation on the impact a toy can have over our youth and the future of our cultures.