I chose Barbie.

In my childhood, the doll was always there – sitting on my dresser, taken with me on car trips, surfing the waves of my bathtub on a turtle comb. She was further along in my adulthood as Barbie became a subject of feminist concern. I have followed many authors, artists, musicians and various cultural jammers who have publicly elaborated their own Barbie themes in fascinating ways. Along the way I realized this: Barbie is that childish thing that none of us can get rid of, because as long as she’s been around, she’s never been a child. Rather, she was an emblem, a scapegoat, a lightning rod, a target and, above all, a mirror. However we feel about Barbie at a given moment says much more about us than about Barbie.

When the backlash of the 1980s against women’s liberation bled into the ’90s, psychologists began to raise alarm over a crisis of confidence among girls in best-selling books like “Resurrecting Ophelia.” Anita Hill explained sexual harassment to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and women on college campuses reported an alarming incidence of sexual assaults. A new wave of feminism arose, and it dragged Barbie down. There was the matter of her unnatural proportions, like a waist-to-hip ratio that couldn’t exist in real life without sacrificing key internal organs. Then, it was her inevitable blondeness and whiteness. Despite introductions of Black and Latina Barbies in 1980, along with special collections such as the 1980s Barbies of the World, everyone knew that the real Barbie – the icon, the ur-Barbie, the one true Barbie – was a testament to the same Western beauty ideal inscribed in the other institutions of decorative femininity in America, from Hollywood to Miss America to Playboy.

As with every iteration of feminism, those of us in the third wave that rose in the 90s had to grapple with the missteps, misgivings and unfinished business of previous generations. Barbie was certainly not the most important thing, but she was, after all, right there, naked and even proud, which we would call problematic. So we put on our hot-pink shirts.

Barbie’s rulers were also humiliated. In 1992, Mattel introduced Teen Talk Barbie, which uttered, among other phrases, a chip “Math-class is tough!” confirming that the historically trendsetting brand was behind the times — and prompting criticism from the American Association of University Women. Mattel’s litigious responses to things like the 1998 intersectional feminist body image essay collection “Adios, Barbie” and Aqua’s gratifyingly ubiquitous earworm “Barbie Girl” didn’t help its PR Mattel celebrated Barbie’s 40th birthday in 1999 with a brand overhaul that shifted its focus from that young lady to its own campaign to your audience. hero.”

The movie “Barbie” is also about becoming your own hero or at least taking a hero’s journey — one that takes Barbie into a real world that, for the most part, finds her either dangerous or irrelevant. It’s an appropriate approach, because the most interesting thing about Barbie has always been our reactions to her. Some reviews said that the film suffers from an attempt by the director, Greta Gerwig, to assimilate the breadth of the Barbie discourse, causing narrative overload. But how could it not, given how much discourse Barbie has inspired over 64 years?

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