(Re)scripting Barbie: Postphenomenology and everyday artefacts

Naghmeh Nouri Esfahani , Victoria Carrington

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


Few ‘real’ individuals have had their changing fashion, style choices and impact on culture as intensely scrutinized as has Mattel’s Barbie™. Since her introduction to the market in 1959 she has reigned supreme as a popular culture icon, and reflecting her status, an entire academic and publishing industry, particularly within cultural, feminist and gender studies, sits alongside the marketing and distribution juggernaut that is Barbie™. Whereas the range of dolls that sits collectively under the Barbie™ banner has grown over the years alongside the range of markets in which she is distributed (over 150 countries), the Caucasian blonde, tall, thin, blue-eyed, pink-lipped, tanned Barbie™ has remained a shared point of reference. As an artefact, Barbie™ represents an era of plastic mass manufacturing and molding technologies, and as such her plasticity is historically and culturally significant. According to Toffoletti, “Plastic is the definitive symbol of the mid-twentieth century, a period characterized by ‘artificiality, disposability, and synthesis’ ” (cited in Fenichell, 1996, 5). Its indeterminacy also situates it within the territory of the postmodern, marked by the destabilization of hierarchies such as authenticity versus reproduction, and high versus low culture (Jameson, 1991). Whereas her iconic status as a cultural reference often encourages us to speak of Barbie™ as a singular object, she has had more than 50,000 separate design changes to her vinyl body and hair since her original moulding in 1959 (Van Gelder, 2009). Reflecting her essential plasticity, over time her body shape has been altered, her face shape and the size of her forehead have changed, her eyes have changed shape and directionality and her eyebrow shapes have followed the latest fashion. At the same time, her hair has become thicker, longer and more pliant, her skin colour has diversified, her lips have become fuller, and make up trends have come and gone. Originally marketed as a successful model (Weissman, 1999), Barbie™ has been positioned throughout her history and design evolution as a role model for young girls (Boomen, 2009; Mandeville, 1992). Her many plastic selves have included model, teacher, librarian, nurse, veterinarian, astronaut, NASCAR driver, babysitter and presidential candidate, each restyling a response to the changing aspirational values of the girls and their mothers who purchased the dolls.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhenomenology of Youth Cultures and Globalization
Subtitle of host publicationLifeworlds and Surplus Meaning in Changing Times
EditorsStuart R. Poyntz, Jacqueline Kennelly
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-72070-0
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2015

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Social and Political Thought


  • postphenemonology
  • dolls

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