Barbie’s place in adolescence and constructed femininity has baffled psychologists and feminist alike: on one hand, she’s a patient confidante onto which girls might project their hopes and aspirations. But she also espouses limited and damaging views on female roles, bodies, and sexuality. She sends conflicting messages, passively listening to you for hours while remaining inhumanly cold. As girls, we intuitively pick up that Barbie is “grown up” and “sexy,” but she doesn’t have genitals and therefore cannot be understood as a sexual agent.
Recent studies have revealed that girls grapple with the confusing mixed messages inherent in Barbie’s constructed brand of femininity by both worshipping the doll and doing violence to her. One day, a girl might stroke and brush her hair; the next, she might chop her to pieces. Barbie’s uncanny quality, so like real women and also so absurdly different at the same time, forces her to occupy a volatile and confusing place within the minds of young women.
The artist and jewelry designer Margaux Lange’s “Plastic Bodies Series” forces us to enter that place. Lange, who remembers obsessing over the dolls in her youth, constructs intricate jewelry from dismembered and deconstructed Barbies. The pieces are equally mesmerizing and terrifying, and responses range from admiration to utter disgust. The power of the work lies in the tension between reverence and anger; while Barbie is destroyed to make the pieces, she’s also used to create works as valuable as many precious jewels.
The work can be read as an ode to the Barbie icon or as an outcry against her, depending on who you ask. Says Lange, “Often my work utilizes Barbie as an archetype to analyze all that this icon has come to symbolize. Sometimes, I aim to distance myself and critique pop culture in this way, and other times I wish to engage and participate in it. Much like my own experience with womanhood: a series of rejecting and embracing prescriptive roles and stereotypes.”
What do you think of Lange’s work? Let us know in the comments!
Images via Twenty Two Words