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Why 'Barbie' matters

July 21, 2023

The hype around the new Barbie movie is enormous. But for 64 years, opinions on the long-legged, blonde doll have been divided. Why does Barbie matter?

Film Summer Movie Preview Barbie
Image: Warner Bros/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

For some, the 30-centimeter plastic doll represents a toxic ideal of beauty; for others, she is a feminist icon. How does that go together? Barbie is the subject of heated debate and has been one of the biggest selling toys since its emergence onto the market in 1959.

Barbie-inventor Ruth Handler
Image: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo/picture alliance

Arts Unveiled introduces its inventor Ruth Handler, who, according to US author Susan Shapiro, is a pioneer of feminism. Barbie is independent, confident, and a working woman. A man is at best an accessory in the doll’s life. Others view the Barbie cult more critically. Doctors, feminists, artists criticize the female stereotype that Barbie represents. Although Barbie has always evolved.

Divers Barbie dolls
Image: Cover-Images/imago images

The doll has long been made in almost all skin colors. A Barbie with Down’s syndrome is now also available to buy.

Barbie | Taofick Okoya and his "Queens of Africa"

In Africa, there has been real competition for a while: the Nigerian "Queens of Africa” dolls aim to convey a completely different image of beauty and womanhood, celebrating color and diversity. What can a "Barbie” film in 2023 add to that? Director Greta Gerwig has turned the Barbie myth into a wild, disruptive film that also highlights the criticism of the franchise. One thing is for certain: Barbie isn’t going anywhere.

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DW Arts Unveiled (Serienlogo Composite)

Arts Unveiled — Experiencing and understanding the art world

Arts Unveiled dives deep into the international creative scene, uncovering new ideas and explaining cultural phenomena that shape our history, present and future. Who are the artists? What are their greatest works of art? And how are they having an impact? Where can we find their exciting projects?