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BS Architecture / ANTRO 10: Reflection Paper #1 / 15 July 2008 / Edwin Valientes / THV1
The Barbie Connection
(A Reflection Paper on BBC’s “How Art Made The World: More Human than Human” Documentary)
Truth is, as the old folks say, a lot stranger than fiction. It has always been hard to accept a new discovery for it usually negates an old but established belief. Analogously, real life manifestions are more mystical than the actual art form. As a student (and literally a ‘slave’) of the arts, documentaries like the one shown in class never cease to give me the “goosebumps”. We are the makers of art and art, in return, makes us human. The film showed in class bridged that eternal question of the why’s and how’s of human form in art. I agree with the show’s premise that of all the defining characteristics of humanity as a species, none is more basic than the inclination to make art. Taken from the show’s official website:
“Great apes will smear paint on canvas if they are given brushes and shown how, but they do not instinctively produce art any more than parrots produce conversation. We humans are alone in developing the capacity for symbolic imagery."
Simply put, we have an innate ability for art. The shapes, colors and structures in art are embedded deep within our collective psyche. Our “hardwired” instinct to exaggerate and exalt our very own form provides answers into how images of unrealistic (or using the show’s term: “more human than human”) humans appear to be so powerful that it has been able to transcend generations upon generations of artists. After digesting the tidbits about these startling discoveries, a childhood memory entered my mind. I remembered a modern “statue” (statuette?) which had been in the center of much controversy for the past five decades. Her proportion had long intrigued me. Her form is so unrealistic yet she had managed to be around for ages.
Redefining (the) Woman. Arguably, no other toy has the same effect on young girls than Barbie. The
words “…from urban girl to fantasy queen, she’s everything! From surf and sand to fairyland she’s everywhere!” welcomes everyone to Mattel’s official site (Mattel is the company that manufactures Barbie dolls) featuring the original famous blonde. Upon deeper analysis of the toy’s social imagery: Barbie isn’t just a doll--- she is a cultural icon. The doll’s real name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. More popularly known as “Barbie”, she can break any renaissance master’s record on being the ultimate “renaissance man”. (She has a long, unending lists of jobs all under her, albeit very tiny, belt. All of which she maintains without having a ‘husband’ and gaining any body fat.) She had definitely redefined the very concept of a career woman. The goal, according to Ruth Handler (the person credited for the creation of the doll) is for Barbie to serve as an example to help girls imagine what life would be like as they got older. She wanted the kids to pretend that Barbie was them and get an idea of their endless opportunities in life. Handler wanted the doll to be very versatile in order to represent the dreams of every type of girl. This is said to be the reason why Ken (Barbie’s constant “date” and companion) was never Barbie's husband, why she was never given parents, or why she was never given a daughter. Handler and Mattel didn't want Barbie to be held down and given a single role of a housewife--- they wanted to make it possible for Barbie to be anything any girl could dream up in their own life by promoting gender equality.
The Powerful Image of Exaggeration. After the Venus of Willendorf statue, it appears that the
exaggeration of human form in art was more focused on the masculine form. The images of women as depicted by the Egyptians, or those images honed by the Greeks, no more involved proportions
as exaggerated as that of the voluptuous “little, big venus”. Fast forward to our generation, the ideal body for a woman is far different from that of the Willedorf Venus. Barbie exemplified the “perfect” body--- a figure that, according to scientists, is not possible for a woman to have. Her vital statistics of 39-18-33 had launched a number of feminists into protest. Further internet searches revealed more absurd “realities” over Barbie’s anthropometrics: her neck is twice as long as the average human's which would make it impossible to hold up her head ; her waist is the same circumference as her head ; her legs are 50% longer than her arms ; she wouldn’t be unable to walk upright (she would need to walk on all four's!) for her feet are so proportionately small that her chest would pull her perpetually forward onto her toes. More importantly, a research done at the University Central Hospital (Helsinki, Finland) revealed that if Barbie was real she would be far below the required 17-22 percent of body fat needed to menstruate. (It’s then logical for Barbie to never acquire children.) Exaggerating Barbie's proportions, according to Mattel, is needed to make her look natural with clothing on. (Note that this same line of reasoning made the Egyptians’ two-dimensional rendition of the human form logical. Same goes for the Riace Bronzes “moving” form. Humans alters reality to pave way for their art.)
(Still) Holding the World on (her tiny plastic) Hand. Art changes through the years. Fads will continue
to come and go. The human form will remain as the most preferred subject of man’s unending quest for perfection and beauty. (No other image will dominate our world other than that of the human body.) The transition from a “Venus of Willendorf” to the “Barbie Body” happened after an overhauling of culture. Who knows, maybe thousands of years from now, when our civilization is perished, and when the next generation of anthropologists try to look for clues of our culture’s existence--- they’ll accidentally unearth a Barbie. For whatever happens, she definitely has the world in her tiny plastic hand. She’s never real, but her image AND proportion will always be powerful enough to stir human emotions.
Internet Sources / References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbie (Barbie, from Wikipedia) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4532785.stm (Search for Roots of Modern Images, BBC News Science / Nature) http://www.mattel.com/our_toys/ot_barb.asp (Official Site for Fashion Doll Barbie)