We Are Barbie Girls in a Glitched Barbie World
CONTEXT OF ARTIFACT ITSELF
“We Are Barbie Girls in a Glitched Barbie World” is a collection of glitch artwork meant to represent our online performances that are just as surreal in perfection as Barbie. These pieces critically investigate different aspects of Barbie and how they directly relate to our representations online. Our striving for unattainable perfection, our lack of acceptance of different forms that beauty can take, our disinterest in magnifying true aspects of culture and religious identity, and our obsession with our outer appearance are all embodied by Barbie, and we have followed suit. My art is meant to demonstrate that just as these pieces are slightly inaccurate compared to the true images, so are our social network profiles. This art is meant to draw attention to both women and men, but especially women, so that they see that just as Barbie is flawed, we can be too. As an amateur artist, I am simply a 20 year-old female who feels the pressure of perfection as stressed by Barbie and my peer’s “perfect” social media accounts. I want to live in a world where young girls are not feeling this pressure and see who they are differently; beautiful in their own right and proud to present themselves as they truly are. As social networks become more and more influential on how people act and how they view the world, it is more and more important to stress the ways in which we should interact with these mediums so that all feel accepted and more self-confident instead of creating facades that are as unrealistically perfect as Barbie.
Through my digital artifact, I have chosen to explore social networking site personas created by users as represented via the glitch art I have created of Barbie. Barbie is an icon for women; she is one of the most contested symbols of popular culture. Released in 1959, this toy quickly became a fashion icon. The doll, created by Ruth and Elliot Handler, has always been able to change her clothes, and because she is a toy, she is the ultimate plaything chameleon. “The Barbie doll was never only a ‘fashion doll,’ but always a set of opportunities for adding to an image of girlhood” (Mitchell 41). With plenty of outfits, play sets, and versions of Barbie, this versatile doll is able to be anything the owner wished her to be. Barbie is effortlessly a career woman, a mother, a girlfriend, and a friend with every outfit or scene she is placed in. This has been a positive message to women that they are able to be anything they aspire to be, but the controversy arises in her image. “With her long legs, tiny waist, and large breasts, Barbie does seem to be the envy of many, regardless of how unrealistic she is. Her perfection is a frequent theme with kids and it is swallowed in different ways” (Stone 47). Placing these miniature supermodels in the hands of children has trained them to be wary of their own image, and many compare themselves to this doll that they find so inspirational. The problem arises, however, because her perfection is not truly attainable. Barbie is an unrealistically “perfect” model that women have tried to emulate for years, and this type of perfection has transferred to cyber space where people create social networking sites meant to represent themselves in the best possible ways in an attempt to seem perfect.
“Barbie has been the #1 most destructive force on the self-image of women all over the globe! Little girls, given Barbies, grow up believing that they are not pretty enough or lovable enough because they do not look like her,” according to Dr. Carole Lieberman who is a psychiatrist (Stone 6). Girls face serious body consciousness as they grow older and recognize that they have different body types, skin color, hair color, and eye color than their beloved doll. They want to mirror Barbie “perfection”, and it can take a toll on a woman physically and psychologically. The greater issue is that this has transcended beyond a physical desire for perfection; people attempt to manufacture “perfect” online facades as well. Our identities, which are socially constructed, are greatly influenced by those around us. Therefore, our online identities are impacted by our social networks. We look around us and intend to “fit in” by following the social codes, just as we attempt to do with our physical image (Fardouly, Diedrichs, Vartanian & Halliwell).
“Supermodels have embodied a look similar to Barbie’s since the 1960s. Thin is hot. Size fourteen, apparently, is not” (Stone 47). Women are constantly bombarded with pictures of airbrushed women that look as flawless as a plastic doll, and they strive to be just as desired as those toys and the models that emulate her. Women should love themselves and appreciate that they look different than others, but our society has always inspired this concept of normalcy and uniformity regardless of our differences. This becomes problematic because of all the different types of people in this world that should consider themselves beautiful and lovable even though they are not like Barbie.
I used to love playing with Barbies; my dolls were older and able to be on their own. I thought it was so cool that Barbie could have her own house, drive her own car, and live her own life. Her independence was always so amazing. I loved that one day my Barbie could be a doctor, and the next day she was a fashion designer. She could have countless pets, countless kids, numerous friends, and everything about the life I created for her seemed perfect. The way I used to play with Barbie and manipulate the way she dressed, where she went, what she said, who she interacted with, and what she did, reminds me of our manipulation of social networking sites. Online, anything that you say or post a picture of can be manipulated to reflect what we want to be true; even if it is not necessarily the truth.
People always try to portray themselves in the best light possible; they want to make themselves and their lives seem as perfect as Barbie’s. According to Pearson, “identity–as–performance is seen as part of the flow of social interaction as individuals construct identity performances fitting their milieu. With a heightened self–consciousness, online environments take this construction of performance to another level”. We “perform” online as children perform with their dolls. Social network users project themselves in this almost surreal way. The users select the information they want to share about their lives, decide what personal information to publish on their Facebook pages and in their Twitter descriptions. They can use social network sites to share photos, which are meant to be proof. However, in a performance fashion, users select which pictures to share. Participants in social networks decide what makes them look their best and only publish that. It may take multiple takes to get the right picture, or require the use of filters to enhance an image, or even some type of Photoshop software to change appearances slightly. I know so many girls who position the objects on their desk in a manner to make the picture look perfect, clean, and almost unrealistically good. They will take plenty of takes and still run the picture that was liked the best through apps to filter it and perfect it. My friend who has a fashion Instagram account takes pictures in our apartment of shoes all the time. She will vacuum the small area of the rug she wants to use, shave her legs up to where her pants end, and change her pants but keep on a messy t-shirt. She sometimes sits weirdly to position her shoes just right and sometimes requires my roommates or I to take the picture depending on the angle. Then end result, is a beautiful picture of shoes that looks like she is effortlessly relaxing and casually taking a picture of her new shoes; when in reality in took about thirty minutes to prep for this photo shoot. The first time I saw her creating one of these posts in my apartment, I began to wonder why? Why did she have to take so much effort to produce this artsy picture of shoes? Why would she work so hard for one photo that will appear on my Instagram feed and I will only look at it for a few seconds before I choose to like it or scroll on?
It seems a little ridiculous that this is the face she wants to put up, but all users do so to some extent. I even hide pictures on my social media where I do not look my best. I am now wary that any picture I take will end up on Facebook or Instagram, and so I dress and pose with that knowledge. It is like the users of dating websites that put up pictures of themselves from 10 years ago to make themselves look and seem younger. These false personas that are pretty close to the truth are meant as a performance. We know that we are not representing ourselves 100% accurately, and yet that is exactly how we want to portray ourselves. We are trying to make it seem as though we live clean and perfect lives like Barbie’s. The issue with online performances is that it can cause users to be depressed. Many studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time someone uses social networking sites and the probability of suffering from depression. We are creating a difficult environment for ourselves in cyberspace where we attempt to make ourselves look better while also being jealous of those who are doing the same. In some part of our minds, we believe the performance being put on is truthful, which is just as incorrect as perceiving Barbie as a representation of the perfect woman.
Just like the fashion doll, the perfect woman needs to take her fashion seriously. When I was younger, I was always begging my mother to buy more Barbie clothes, because my dolls were too fabulous to wear the same thing all the time. Just like most of my friends with Barbie dolls, I always needed to make sure my dolls looked good. I grew up being concerned about my clothes and how that affects my appearance, which is popular among women my age. I bought a dress for a dance, and naturally I took numerous pictures that were posted on my Facebook and Instagram accounts. The following week, I was going to another dance, and I went to go buy another dress. My mom, confused, asked me why I am not going to wear the dress I wore the week before again. I laughed, and I responded explaining that I just posted pictures on my social networks in that dress, so naturally everyone just saw me in it. I needed to wear a different dress, because I could not be pictured in the same dress so recently. This great concern for self-image and what a girl wears is so important in today’s society and it has carried over to social networks and our obsession with how we are perceived outwardly.
“Mass-produced objects like dolls can tells us much about the creation and significance of self-image in the context of group identities” (Kirkham 81). We identify her as the perfect example of a woman, yet she is plastic and lifeless. Barbie does not have a specific personality or aspirations, an education, a specific career path, a family, a stable relationship, a definitive point of origin, or even an ethnic background. Barbie can be anything, because she has no substance without our individual imaginations. Yet our society praises such a thing that lacks anything that would make her a real person.
Barbie is a very attractive woman, although she does not have any personality or anything that makes her distinct other than her appearance. Barbie is not only attractive, but also in a relationship; she lends to the social construction of romance with Ken. Ken is equally attractive with a well-toned body, perfect hair, and a great smile. He has more limited mobility as a doll than Barbie, because all he needs to do is be able to hold Barbie’s hand. “Although Ken is another characterized Barbie accessory, he also stands in for the necessity of the boyfriend accessory to ideal girlhood” (Mitchell 41). Barbie teaches young girls that attractive women have equally attractive partners, but their partners are inferior to them. Ken does not have as many variations or clothes, which indicates that Ken is not as important as Barbie. This is not a good message to send young girls about relationships. Girls should have respect for their partners and create an equal and balanced relationship; the man should be more than an accessory. Barbie and Ken’s relationship can give girls the wrong impression of how their future relationships will operate and how to interact with their partner. Ken’s relationship with Barbie is nondescript, so each girl can create their own relationship for the pair. “Although she is characterized as single, her wedding dress remains the most popular of her outfits” (Kirkham 83). Girls are given this complicated look at “the perfect relationship”, since their relationship is unknown, yet they fantasize about the wedding. This carries over into social networking sites, because many teens constantly post about their significant others to show the world their relationship. Because Barbie has Ken, naturally all of us must have our Kens, and so girls become obsessed with showing off their Kens. In many instances, the pictures posted make the girl look good and convey how they are lucky to have found such a great man and how much they love their love their boyfriend or girlfriend; the boys are also often better characterized as an accessory dressed to either match the girl or compliment her outfit. It becomes painfully obvious with the relationship status on Facebook where a specific region of a profile can indicate if a person is in a relationship and what kind it is. Although relationships are meant to be private between two people, social networking sites open this information up to all friends and followers.
Another aspect about relationships that Barbie fails to demonstrate is lesbians and gays. Mattel has never released a girlfriend for Barbie or a boyfriend for Ken. Young children who recognize that they are attracted to the same sex can feel as though this famous toy alienates them. Because of the potential for imagination, it can be argued that each individual that plays with the dolls can create any sort of scenario where Barbie has a girlfriend and Ken has a boyfriend, but there is no wedding set with two brides or two grooms like the popular Barbie and Ken wedding set. In social media, there is great debate about the legalization of gay marriage, and it can be a place where gays and lesbians are bullied for their romantic preferences; partly because gays and lesbians are not fully accepted into our society. If they were, there would be a gay Ken and a lesbian Barbie.
Yet another group that is not well represented in Barbie doll form is minorities. There are not as many African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, etc. dolls as there are Caucasian dolls. The Caucasian dolls can have different eye and hair colors, but almost every version of Barbie is white. Stone wrote, “No matter what racial or ethnic identity she adopts, Barbie strikes me as white-identified, as a beneficiary of white-skin privilege, as cultural evidence of white domination” (68). We cannot hope to have confident capable and strong women if they constantly feel inferior to the perfect Caucasian blonde doll that every girl wants to have and explores their wildest imaginations through. This doll reinforces our white-centered society that does not benefit the greater population, especially in the United States. As a Caucasian girl, I did not feel alienated by Barbie’s skin tone, but I can imagine that girls of different races have felt uncomfortable by this image. This white superiority is one that is common in social settings including online. Among my friends, I have never known a colored girl who got more likes on a profile picture than a Caucasian. We see this social favoritism in social networking sites, because all of the messages about society that are sent and received in the real world transfer to cyberspace no matter what.
One issue that I find with both Barbie and social representations in social media is the issue of culture. As a Greek American, I have a strong sense of my culture. I have learned Greek customs and traditions, and I am proud of this component of my background. A problem, however, is how Barbie has represented my culture. For the “Barbies of the World” line, the doll meant to represent Greek culture was a doll from Ancient Greece in a toga, and she did not represent my culture properly. Looking at the whole line, none of those dolls were good interpretations of the rich ethnic backgrounds they intended to demonstrate. This is also apparent in social network performances where stereotypes are the most common way to embody any ethnicity. A Greek friend of mine took a picture of herself with a friend at a toga party and captioned the picture “going back to our roots”. Instead of exposing those in her networks to a substantial component of Greek culture like the cuisine or true traditional garb, she entertained the stereotype and reinforced it for those in her social networks to perceive Greek culture falsely. This is not just Barbie’s fault, as it is our fault for strengthening this societal norm, yet the most telling aspect of the Greek Barbie is that she is a stand alone “artifact”. The Greek Barbie does not have a set or a change of clothes, and she does not have fun like the blonde Barbie.
Another aspect of culture that must be highlighted is religion. It is a hot button topic throughout the world, and these debates have carried over to the Internet. However, Barbie does not have a specific religious identity. There is no cross accessory for Barbie to wear, or a kippah for a Jewish Ken to wear. Although the Barbie wedding play sets are popular, there is no priest or other religious official to officiate the ceremony. Consider the Muslim girls that play with Barbie; their older sisters and mothers, who are the same age or older than Barbie, don hijabs. Their dolls, however, do not have hijabs to wear. This can marginalize young Muslim girls who feel their religious practices and traditions are not glamorous enough or important enough for Barbie to represent. On social networking sites, it is apparent that religion is something that is best to keep off of profiles and eliminate the possibility of causing controversy. It can also be seen as weird. A friend of mine shared a picture that was taken of him chanting in our church. A mutual friend of ours pointed the picture out noting that it was ridiculous of him to share a picture of him practicing an aspect of the Eastern Orthodox faith. She was curious why he would share something like that. He has shared his religious views via Facebook statuses quite often since, and he receives very few likes for these posts. Whenever the posts are brought up in conversation, friends of mine wonder why he would share that religious opinion. An important aspect of social network performances is the ability to remain uncontroversial; like Barbie, it is best to ignore such disputed and sensitive topics instead of engaging and running the risk of commencing a conflict.
My glitch artwork tackles these issues that are apparent in the representations of Barbie and also in social network sites, because our society needs to understand that how we choose to represent ourselves online is superficial and as fake as a plastic doll. Barbie is very indicative of current societal norms, but these norms are very particular, exclusive, and insensitive. Barbie can be anything or anyone, but she tends to be a Caucasian blonde woman with a flawless body, a woman who always looks perfect, well-dressed, lacks a real personality or family background, in a nonspecific relationship with a man, and is without a sense of culture or religion. Barbie has been greatly judged for her representation of current culture, yet we do not criticize ourselves for following suit and conforming to this plastic representation of ourselves. We fabricate our social network presence to seem more perfect than it truly is. Women, especially, are contradicting themselves because they are infuriated with the messages Barbie sends to young girls, but continue to maintain surreal facades online that are too perfect.
My art is meant to highlight that we value what a pop culture doll values; stereotypes, unreachable perfection, outer beauty, and a positive perception regardless of the truth. This was not the intention when the doll was first created by the young company, named Mattel, which launched many children’s toys at the same time. The Handlers did not know that their doll would become a contested symbol and a source of controversy, and similarly, the creators of social network sites did not expect their sites to be a place for the public’s “masks” to be put on display. Yet, our society has manipulated these platforms and these playthings to represent such serious cultural matters in biased ways.
Barbie has been misrepresenting women since the beginning with the body of the doll alone. What is more is that “Barbie is composed of contradictory images of girls’ experiences, pleasures, and aspirations” (Mitchell 42). Barbie, on one hand, promotes imagination, creativity, and the idea that women are able to pursue any life or career path they choose, but conversely, she represents stereotypical perfection that deters girls from feeling empowered and loving themselves in comparison to the doll.
“My Profile”, the first work in my installment, is meant to represent the social network profiles created by users and that they are not always true. “Just Try to Measure Up” is intended to criticize the waistline and body type of the Barbie doll, and that is it unrealistic to attempt to achieve that body. “The Original Barbie” This version of Barbie has a flatter chest, a little wider waistline, and less makeup. Ruth Handler created this version of Barbie with the intention of giving her daughter, Barbara that chance to have a more grown-up doll that could do anything. The original Barbie could do anything and be anyone, but there were not as many outfits, play sets, friends, and material goods for Barbie to own. This original Barbie was able to show girls that they can be anything they want to be, without stressing the desire to be materialistic. “The Original Barbie” is meant to pay homage to the first Barbie that was released who was beautiful, classic, and inspired a message of woman empowerment, but now she has changed into a symbol of materialism and unrealistic perfection that young girls look up. “United Colors of Barbie” demonstrates all of the different colors that Barbie comes in, and yet they all look the same. Standing side by side, they look like the exact same doll without any specific defining features or even any distinctive cultural or ethnic garb. “Runway Ready Everyday” is intended to represent the impracticality of trying to look fashionably perfect everyday and in all social network presence. “Barbie and Ken May Date Whomever They Want” was inspired by the Gay Straight Alliance symbol with a lesbian couple on one side, a gay couple on the other, and a straight on in the middle. After creating the original image, I glitched it to show that the gender of a partner is not something that should be scandalous, but accepted. In this work, even the original Barbie, created at a less popular time for gays and lesbians, supports all types of relationships. “#InstaFamous” shows that even Barbie is trying to make her social network accounts look perfect by adding a filter to her already perfect photo. It seems all of us are guilty of modifying images of ourselves, whether it is as complicated as Photoshop manipulation or as simple as picture filters. The final piece, is an encore work titled “If I Was a Glitched Girl” intended to represent yet again our glitched social network presence, but as it is the core focus of my artwork, I thought it would be best to have a second glitch artwork representation.
I do not want girls who grow up in our current society with both Barbie and social networks as a means to propagate societal norms that are damaging to a woman’s self-esteem and lack a true resemblance of our real society that includes women of different body types, skin tones, ethnic background, religious identity, and sexual orientation. I want girls to learn through these famous dolls how to be accepting of all different types of people, especially themselves. I want girls to grow up believing that they do not have to act on the World Wide Web as a stage where they pretend to be someone that they are not and represent them falsely to their online connections. Women and young girls alike need to know that they can be accepted and cared for as they are. They can be themselves without fear of being discriminated against and viewed as weird or abnormal. My art is representative of that.
It may seem like plenty of meaning for messed up pictures of Barbie, but glitch art represents the digital performances that are as fake as Barbie. Barbie is my source of inspiration, and I have found too many similarities between Barbie and how we operate in social networks; Barbie is something so popular in society, and therefore she is a symbol that does not require an explanation. We all know the positive and negative messages she sends, but we may not recognize the glitch in our perspective, which is that we basically emulate her and what she stands for online regardless of our feelings about her and what she represents in the real world. Glitch art is meant to show that she is a damaged symbol just as we send out inaccurate messages about ourselves on our profiles. The error in our ways is one that can be corrected, just as Barbie can change, but until then, we will remain Barbie girls in a glitched Barbie World.
The presentation of my Glitch Art is below:
· Fardouly, Jasmine, Phillippa C. Diedrichs, Lenny R. Vartanian, and Emma Halliwell. “Social Comparisons on Social Media: The Impact of Facebook on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns and Mood.” Body Image 10 (2014): 38–45. Print.
· Kirkham, Pat. “Barbie and Action Man: Adult Toys for Girls and Boys.” The Gendered Object. Manchester: Manchester UP ;, 1996. 80–84. Print.
· Mitchell, Claudia, and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. “Barbie Culture.” Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Westport: Greenwood, 2008. 38–42. Print.
· Pearson, Erika. “All the World Wide Web’s A Stage: The Performance of Identity in Online Social Networks.” First Monday 14.3 (2009). Print.
· Stone, Tanya Lee. The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact On Us. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.