modern barbie

In today’s iteration of Barbie reimagined, artist Colleen Clark (of body image comic fame) tried something novel–she drew sketches of what Barbie would look like if Barbie were based on actual people. Showcasing what actual diversity looks like is a pretty jarring way to realize just how far we have to go, and how bizarre it is that we’re still happily handing out Barbie dolls as toys and an idealization of women.

Clark was commissioned to make these drawings for Marie Claire South Africa–the request was for a “feminist Barbie.” Clark explains how she would envision that, with an eye towards inclusivity and personal choice.

I think Barbie is a really complex feminine icon, and I was so excited to get the chance to add to the discussion. I think a feminist Barbie would love her body and love my body too, because feminism is all about accepting yourself and others for who we all are! “A feminist Barbie” would be proud of her own thin frame and proud of another woman’s curvier one. She would be proud of a woman’s decision to own her own body by deciding to tattoo it, strengthen it, or wear religious coverings. If being a Barbie girl (or boy, or anything inbetween) meant being accepted and accepting of others, I think we’d all want to be on Barbie’s side.

Her drawings are light and fun, and hit on important failings in actual Barbie land.

barbie real girls

I’m particularly taken with this Fun & Fit Barbie, who I’m sure Reddit would call fat (laughable) but I call strong. There seems to be an overwhelming prejudice when it comes to judging what a “healthy” person looks like, and I’m in favor of anything that shows the diversity of healthy and fit bodies. In fact, any one of these drawings could have the “Fun & Fit” label, but I’m just happy to see a representation of healthy that isn’t thinspo masquerading as fitspo.

modern barbies

Sure, in a perfect world, these renderings wouldn’t all retain teeny waists and Coke bottle proportions, but that’s nit picky. Natural hair, a fat Barbie, a Barbie in a hijab, and one with tattoos? This is true diversity even with those waistlines.

So what’s the point of all of these Barbie recreations? As we’ve seen over and over again, Barbie is the easiest scapegoat around in the whole body image debate, but of course Barbie doesn’t exist in a vacuum. She’s one of many voices that tell women they aren’t good enough, not the only one. She’s not even the loudest voice.

On the other hand, simply being part of a greater problem doesn’t negate Barbie’s role in the catastrophic body image and self esteem issues facing young women today. Barbie has always been aspirational, so to say that we don’t urge women to fit her mold is as tone deaf as saying she’s the only negative message women receive.

While many of these interpretations of Barbie don’t do much to illuminate the actual problem with Barbie, I think that Clark’s project is ultimately pretty successful. It points out the truly ass backward nature of holding up Barbie as any type of icon and expecting women to fall in line behind her. It shouldn’t seem quite so revolutionary to base dolls on human people instead of basing human people on plastic ladies, but it does.

Photos: Colleen Clark / [h/t Buzzfeed]