A Barbie Revolution (Part 3 of 5)

Written by Ashley Schmuecker:

Leading the line was Bev, a thin, tan woman with long jet black hair and deep brown eyes. She was in her early forties, and in between factory jobs.  She unpackaged the Barbies by ripping apart the top of the cardboard box and pulling out the plastic she was twisty-tied into.  Bev united each twisty and pulled Barbie out and tossed her to the next woman.  While Barbie moved down the line, Bev emptied out the other contents of each box; blinding pink sun dresses, or silky revealing evening gowns that hung to the tips of Barbies pointed toes, endless pairs of shoes like Converse sneakers, daring purple peep-toed stilettos (but never black lace up combat boots), and threw them all into giant black Force Flex garbage bag and set the box aside for replacement.

Joyce, a robust and eccentric woman in her mid-sixties, still capable of jogging for short distances even with mild arthritis, was in charge of skillfully removing Barbie’s outfits and tossing them into the same garbage bag Bev was dumping unnecessary accessories into.  Once Barbie had been stripped of her assigned identity, we gave her a new one.  We let our imaginations work through Barbie; she spoke to each of us.  Each Barbie had some deep and mysterious idiosyncrasies longing to be realized from behind the carbon copy plastic mold.

Next was Kara, a twenty-four year old hair stylist, was in charge of giving Barbie a new do.  Pouring different colored cheap hair dyes of black, purple, fuchsia, auburn, gray, she transformed the Blonde bombshell.  She shaved many of their heads as well; plastic Sinead O’Conner look-a-likes. Apart from cutting, coloring or removing hair, Kara also had little Ziploc bags full of dyed Barbie hair from all our practicing.  She had chopped up all the hair she cut off from other Barbie dolls and used that hair for the Barbies in our assembly line.  She took quick drying, clear adhesive and brushed the glue under Barbie’s armpits, over her pubic bone and down her legs.  She then dipped the Barbie in hair that corresponded, or contrasted, to the hair on her head.

Kara handed the hair-full Barbie to Harmony, a new age hippie and high school dropout, also close friend of Tiffany’s was in charge of skin detail.  Her position in the assembly line smelled like a mixture of patchouli and lemongrass essential oils she used for perfume, and the spray-on bronzer and paints that were used on Barbie to create different shades of skin, from the palest ivory to rich olives, to luxurious ebony.  She also used eye liner pencils of different hues to place birthmarks, freckles, moles, or other blemishes on the dolls.

Na’ima and Amina are fourteen year old twins. We tried to recruit their mom, but she was too caught up in her own subversive activism for anti-globalization in response to the world trade center’s next conference, that she suggested her daughters take her place.  Na’ima held the Barbies in front of a fan to dry as they were finished and passed from Harmony to her, while Amina got ready to file down those boobs.  Amina was our quickest filer, completely filing off Barbie’s over-sized, nipple-less boobs in thirty seconds; she attributed her skill to piano lessons, and the constant practice of using her fingers swiftly and gracefully to create music; now she manipulated a thin metal file to shave down Barbie’s boobs to correctly correspond with her proportions.

Sasha, my over-educated bestie and Women’s Studies lecturer at the University, was in charge of fitting Barbie with pre-sewn body suits (mostly sewn ahead of time by Joyce) to alter her body shape to resemble the curves of real women.  These body suits were also sewn onto new outfits.  These included baggy pants and tank-tops, turtle necks and boot cut cords, leggings and over-sized sweaters, football jerseys, cut off shorts, combat boots and lace tops.  Others we left completely naked for the entire world to see Barbie’s new natural beauty.  Full-figured Barbie, pear-shaped Barbie, muffin-top Barbie… the body types we fitted her with were endless.  We also created a few transgender, gender-neutral, or queer-identified Barbies.  Not every human identifies as either a male or a female; we Barbie Revolutionaries see gender as a fluid identity, shifting on a continuum, and created through the process of socialization and not some preordained fate.


About Margaret Sloss Women's Center - ISU

The Margaret Sloss Women's Center promotes equity on the Iowa State University campus. Through a feminist lens, the center advocates for individuals and groups; provides support, referrals, community and programming; and maintains a safe space in the Sloss House.

Posted on December 1, 2010, in Activism, Arts and Crafts, Body Image, Feminism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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