Barbierella

by Kiko Matsing

My soon-to-be 3-year-old niece in the Philippines wants a Barbie doll. So, last weekend, I headed out to Toys”R”Us to pick one out. Boy, was I overwhelmed by their sheer variety–entire aisles were filled with boxes of pink. I took photos to show her so she can pick what she liked. Not only did they have the stock Barbie in princess or various professional outfits, they also have some curious ones that caught me completely off-guard:

Farrah Fawcett Barbie Deborah Harry Barbie

Farrah Fawcett Barbie, posing like in her iconic poster in red swimsuit and famous blonde curls, complete with a replica of the throw rug behind her. Deborah Harry Barbie, lead singer of Blondie and punk icon, dressed in hot pink vinyl, and sporting two-toned shaggy hair. These are not Barbie dolls for little girls.

Online, I found one more for the cult fans: a Tippi Hedren Barbie from the Hitchcock film, The Birds. She has the iconic mint green dress, the tall platinum-blonde coif, and–to my delight–three rabid crows pecking at her (the incarnation of maternal jealousy, according to Paglia). I want one! ($117 at Amazon). [Hey, it’s not as bad as these broheims hooked on My Little Pony… Ok. Maybe it is.]

Tippi Hedren Barbie

You know you’ve attained an iconic status in popular culture when you get your own Barbie. It is, however, not the person per se, but the persona–the projected image–that is iconic.

It is also the pervasive iconography of Barbie herself that drives feminists hysterical over its ideal of body proportions that supposedly turns WASP girls into anorexics. Barbie is certainly no lumpy fertility symbol, but turning her waistline into a matter of feminist politics is just ludicrous. How they underestimate the intelligence of girls.

Vanity Fair, New Hollywood, 2010

So what did I end up getting my niece? The Great Shape Barbie from Toy Story 3, accompanied with the DVD. I think she’ll enjoy the doll more by seeing that it’s also in a movie. This produces what McLuhan calls the “excitement of translation”–the re-cognition of experience in new material (or medium). The rug rat is already media savvy anyway: she knows by now how to play with iPhone apps. Kids these days…

Great Shape Barbie Great Shape Barbie
Kikay on iPod Touch Kikay on iPod Touch Kikay on iPod Touch

It turns out that Great Shape Barbie has been around for a while. I found this TV ad from 1983:

She does look like Jane Fonda during her 1980s Workout phase, albeit glitzier and ditzier, or more West Coast Elle Woods than hardcore aerobics junkie. And there is nothing more antipodal to Gwyneth Paltrow’s spartan yoga/vegan ethos than those dazzling turquoise leotards.

Jane Fonda's Workout Barbarella Poster

Jane Fonda herself appeared as the ditziest blonde in the 1968 camp flick Barbarella that established her as sex symbol. This was before she controversially posed with the North Vietnamese Army and their anti-aircraft gun.

Hanoi Jane
“Hanoi Jane”, circa 1972, in her anti-war activist phase

The press photo shows a plain Jane, stripped of Hollywood glamour, fraternizing with the NVA in the jungles of Indochina. Was this, in part, a form of contrition for her decadent life with French filmmaker Roger Vadim in the 1960s? This image, an utter abdication of sexual glamour, has become as iconic as its space heroine opposite. It is a powerful image that still haunts her even today.

How about a Hanoi Jane Barbie?

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