Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Fashion Industry Gives Barbie An Award

The fashion industry gave Barbie an award but does she really deserve one? An award maybe but this award maybe not so much. 

On the 3rd of June 2019, the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave the doll its Board of Directors’ Tribute. For the sake of clarity it is important to note that the award did not go to Ruth Handler, the woman who created Barbie in 1959 nor Lisa McKnight, the woman who today oversees the Barbie brand. The tribute went to the doll itself. An award in recent years that been received by former first lady Michelle Obama, entertainer and activist Janelle Monáe to name a few. However this time the recipient of the award was a doll. 

The award was selected by the trade organisation’s board; names include Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Prabal Gurung and Tracy Reese to name a few. On the night, the enthusiasm for Barbie was not unanimous however the decision has sparked conversation and is littered with controversy. 

Barbie is a symbol. McKnight president of the brand Barbie, accepted the award, and his speech highlighted how the brand operates as a symbol for inspiring women. McKnight touched on the increased diversity in the range of dolls and also commented on how there was an astronaut Barbie and President Barbie long before there were real women in space and or involved In politics. This summed up by his statement ‘Barbie is a platform for ideas and stands for girls empowerment’. His speech indicated that by putting the spotlight on a female figure through a doll this could spark possibilities and change for women. However and in-spite of this, yes barbie is a captivating and an inspiring doll yes, but ultimately barbie is just a symbol and this essentially was the issue that provoked controversy.

For the most part fashion has kept its focus on entities that have set the industry on a new path. An industry that is overwhelmingly for and about women has focused on celebrating those who have advocated on behalf of women — on behalf of their right to control their body, define their image and delight in the pleasures of beauty. Celebrated real people that have made a tangible difference to the world. Had the award been given to Handler or McKnight herself, I believe there would have been less of an issue because ultimately it is the vision of these woman that have impacted society, the brand Barbie has just been the medium that in which they have facilitated this. Barbie, despite all the marketing and platform aspects, is still a doll. And women are not and for the award to be given to a piece of plastic that functions on the basis of its aesthetic provides some questions. 

It’s somewhat detrimental to see the industry honour Barbie in the same way it did Obama. When in society we are dealing with issues relating to: diversity, women’s advancement and treatment in the workplace and fashion has the ability to effect, this honouring Barbie is a celebration of fashion as aesthetics rather than fashion as a celebration of the ability for an individual to make a difference by seeing examples of other individuals doing the same. 

 A doll has meaning. A doll can stand as an impactful symbol. But it should never stand in for a real woman.

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