Barbie is old. Don’t worry, I’m not about to get all ageist here. Barbie hasn’t lost a step in all her 50 years – if anything, with all the careers she’s had, she’s only gotten better with age. But still, Barbie is subject to the whims of pop culture – we have to ask, does Barbie still have it when it comes to young girls of today? It’s not just you, Barbie – it’s hard to stay cool for that long.
Well, we’re not the only ones asking. The Barbie Project also wants to know how Barbie gets on with the new generation, but it’s out to probe a lot of other interesting questions. Perhaps central to the Barbie Project is the question of whether or not adult assumptions of Barbie – all the baggage Barbie brings to the table, including body image issues – are actually borne out by the people who play with Barbie dolls – kids. It’s easy to play armchair analyst (kids, please keep playing with Barbies, it’s much more fun than Armchair Analyst) and point out all the ills (and benefits) of Barbie, but it’s another thing to take a look at how kids actually respond to the doll.
The Barbie Project is an amalgamation of documentary and social contributions. A couple of documentarians are on the beat, asking parents and their children about their experiences playing with Barbies. They’re looking at how kids play, and the kinds of stories and narratives they build around Barbie. Predictably, there’s less body image worries and more baseball players, space explorers, rap superstars – anything in a child’s imagination. Yeah, believe it or not, kids still know how to pick something up and have fun with it. Who knew?
That’s not to say Barbie is off the hook – the book of criticism written around Barbie still has chapters that are worth reading. But, it seems like the criticism has become well-established enough to the point where it needs its own critical review. The Barbie Project, which can be found in its entirety on a Tumblr, features stories from parents talking about how their kids play, and what they might have learned from it. The project has also enlisted eight prominent mothers who run their own parenting blogs to chronicle their and their kids’ experiences with Barbie. It makes for a multi-faceted, and maybe a little surprising, look at Barbie in the modern age. If you’re a fan of Barbie, it’s definitely worth a look.