This Week, Drown Barbie

Daena Title recently drowned Barbie in her backyard pool.

Along with the doll, Title was drowning the pressure to be Barbie, an “ideal woman” so unrealistic that, due to her total lack of body fat, couldn’t menstruate if she was a living person.

Now Title is showcasing the drownings in a series of photographs and paintings entitled “Drown the Dolls,” on display at Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Culver City, Calif beginning Saturday, Jan. 8.

“I remember playing with these Barbies and being very uncomfortable,” Title says of her childhood self. “There was something about them. They were smiling and sleek and smooth and naked, and you could do whatever you wanted to them and they were just silent and submissive. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, is this what’s on the other side of girlhood for me? Am I going to transform into this? Because I really don’t want to.’”

To celebrate the opening of the show, and to start a dialogue on the impact of Barbie on real women’s lives, Title and Ms. are asking people everywhere to share their Barbie stories on video. We want to hear from you! Record a short video of your Barbie story–did you have Barbies when you were a kid? Did you want them if you didn’t have them? How did you feel about them then, how do you feel about them now?–then send a YouTube link or movie file via email to shallett@msmagazine.com. We’ll be posting our favorites next week, and sharing a new celebrity video on the blog every day until the opening of “Drown the Dolls” this weekend.

We’re starting strong with a video from one of our favorite feminists, Camryn Manheim.

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Image via Big Imagination Group.

Comments

  1. This is amazing! What a wonderful, innovative idea! Daena Title is a genius :)

  2. Colette Brooks says:

    So many generations of young girls have grown up not only playing with Barbie, but futilely aspiring to become the "ideal" she projected onto our collective psyche. Thankfully, most of my sisters managed to abandon the myth early on, moving into womanhood with a solid sense of the feminine. That said, Drown The Dolls will no doubt serve up cathartic reinforcement, not to mention a helluva good time for those of us who found deeper kinship among troll dolls :-)

  3. snobographer says:

    I relate to the body image issues, but there are some positive aspects to Barbie. For me, she (well, I had a Sindy, Starr, and some other fashion dolls too, but they were all shaped pretty much the same) inspired me to look forward to an independent adult life, having a place of my own and a career, doing grown-up things like taking my friends on a road trip to the beach, going to college. I had a lot of fun playing with fashion dolls and the play didn't usually involve beauty or shopping or boys.

  4. Is no one else a little disturbed by the violence toward female images here? Maybe we should be drowning patriarchal figures instead. Just a thought.

    • snobographer says:

      Barbie is a patriarchal figure. But otherwise I agree. And there’s other things girls can do with her besides brush her hair and pose her.

      • She's a patriarchal byproduct. She's a symptom, not the disease. I suggest we drown Pat Buchanan.

        • snobographer says:

          She's an industry. But it would help if toy makers would stop integrating those kinds of dolls with beauty mandates and princess fantasies, make the play more about fun, adventure, independence. And knock it off with all that nauseating, retina-searing pink! I also think white girls should be encouraged to play with dolls that represent ethnicities other than their own.

  5. Love it! absolute genius. I started the "Institute of Barbie Studies" over at my blog recently – only semi-serious, scholars with their tongue firmly planted in their cheeks only encouraged to apply. It was inspired by 1) my 6yo daughter putting on a 'play' in which Barbie broke gender norms by karate-chopping some binoculars and saving the life of the Hindu god Ganesh 2) the horrifying new "Video Barbie" – I'm waiting for the "Video TSA Barbie" to come out soon too! http://storiesaregoodmedicine.blogspot.com/2010/1

  6. My mother wouldn't get me Barbie but rather Tammy (who was heavier like me) I always wanted barbie. Now I'm a huge Barbie collector & a feminist. I'm I'm heavy. No relation.

  7. Dawn DiPrince says:

    I realize that Barbie is only a doll and certainly only a very bad imitation of a real woman, but this drowning act is also a violent one. I noticed the quote in this blog: "They were smiling and sleek and smooth and naked, and you could do whatever you wanted to them and they were just silent and submissive." My skin crawled thinking about this quote within a broader violent context. There are many ways to counteract the "ideal" allure of Barbie. (They certainly aren't allowed in my 3-child household.) However, Drown the Dolls, with its violent implications, isn't great for our collective psyche either . . .

  8. I remember the first time I got a Barbie doll, and I also thought it was strange. Nothing like my Rainbow Brite who looked more like a friend my own age with its chubby dimple cheeks and color block fashion sense. It also looked nothing like my mother, who I wanted to be like as I became a woman. She was my model for feminine beauty; her loud infectious laugh, long dark hair, her capable and confident attitude of optimism and inspiration. I recieved several more of the dolls through the years from people who didn't know me well enough to recognize the polite thankyou's from the earnest ones. I never played with Barbie except at friends houses, when the plethora of accessories invited a poor kid to experiment with clothes.

  9. Lizzie B. says:

    I remember when I was a kid I loved to play with Barbie and all her friends, well, except Ken. I don’t know why but he always had a secondary play in my games. Like I said I used to love playing with Barbie but now that I’m an adult I realize how strong figure is Barbie for little girls that believe they have to be like the doll of their plays. I think that if girls have strong female figures to admire at home or in their communities they’re not so easy to believe this “Barbie story”. Lucky me, I had one, my mum.

  10. I agree with those who protest the "drowning" language and the violence it evokes in connection with women. One step forward and two back, it seems to me.
    My toddler daughter put Barbie in perspective when she asked me why I disliked her so. "She doesn't look like any woman I know" I attempted to be age-appropriate in my analysis…
    After a pause in which my mother looked at me like I was a complete idiot, she said: "That's because she's a doll, Mummy!"
    I bought her a Barbie the next day which she played with for 2 weeks and then lost interest. I figured she the knew the difference, clearly better than I did. After all, none of her other dolls look remotely like any woman I know either.

  11. I heard a great Barbie story last summer. I work at a summer camp and, during staff training, counselors were all doing introductions, saying something about themselves. This strong, confident Smith College senior said how she loved dinosaurs as a child and used to feed her Barbies to her dinosaur toys. Good way to get past the false ideal they project!

  12. I love Barbie, wrote an award-winning paper about her positive impact on Second-Wave Feminism. I grew up with her, always loved playing with my Barbies (at my peak I had about 80). I feel like the feminist movement wrongly incriminated Barbie, that the early Second-Wave Feminists only saw Barbie's surface and didn't see her inner feminist.

  13. Hm, I like the idea of drowning Barbies, just not the connection to violence against women it kind of has.

    I unfortunately don't have a video camera, but I doubt my story would be picked, anyway. I played with barbies up until I was about 4, at which point I one day dismembered all my barbies and sorted them into bags by body part. My mom was rather horrified when she came home – not the dismembering part, but all that money wasted. I believe my dad may have pointed out spending money on Barbies in the first place was a waste, but I'm not sure.

    Anyway, she threw them out and refused to ever get me any kind of doll ever again. But, the fact that at age 4 I took the time to sort them into groups by body part – accurately – made her decide I obviously wanted to be a doctor, so for the next ten years or so most of my toys were all science-geared things.

    (Depressing Fun Fact: Because most of my toys were science-geared things, I spent the next ten years shopping for toys in the general kids section or the boys' section, but never the girls section – there was nothing there for geeks like me :( ).

  14. for me, the show is about the artist..very emotionally charged paintings, using water as symbology and drowning as metaphor. Ms. Title may be working out life issues through her paintings, there is pain there, i see it and feel it…reminding me of Frida Kahlo, who painted her inner turmoils for all to see……

    if the paintings healed Ms. Title then it was a success. not original show and not getting to the true diabolical intentions of the creation of barbies…but she is touching on something important.

    don't like the pre-teen kids involved…"She Said No"…is revealing rape, or something deeper than, wrangling a doll, upside down in a pool.

    mixed feelings about the show, but congrats to Ms. Title, for painting barbies and dealing with today's issues !

  15. natalie wilson says:

    I think the reactions regarding the "violence toward female images" fail to take into account the context and intent of Title's work into account. See my post on this subject at Girl With Pen here if you like — http://girlwpen.com/?p=1948

  16. justducky says:

    They hurt like heck when a "friend" or brother hit me with them. We had some pretty good Barbie fights as kids! Best story I know: A friend of mine who was raised a Methodist received a Barbie in a black negligee as a Christmas gift from a charitable organization that was handing out Christmas gifts to children. Her mother was sooo upset!

  17. Belle of Acadie says:

    I don’t like Barbies because they are made in China, full of lead and toxins, completely environmentally un-friendly.

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