Curvy Barbie, Welcome to Frumpville. Population 100 million.
There was applause from nearly every direction. When Mattel introduced Curvy Barbie last year, traditional and social media alike burst into ovation. An aging icon was evolving her girl squad and making a new effort to reflect how young women look, and what parents want to buy. But while the release of the new doll was clearly a well-intentioned move, I found myself cringing. Something was pushing on my pain points – and it didn’t take long to figure out the problem.
Curvy Barbie inadvertently appeared to be a Lilliputian-scale reflection of everything that was broken in the relationship between larger bodies and fashion – a relationship in which bigger bodies were punished through austerity and exclusion, and relegated to Frumpville where they were sent to accept their fate and make the best of a bad situation.
But I, like all 100 million American women over size 14, knew the truth. I knew that a size-6 woman never had better taste - she just had better options.
Before I go any further, let me start by saying that I’m a true fan. Barbie was a catalyst in my fashion awakening, which eventually led to my becoming the creative director of my own fashion label. The earliest formative fashion moments I remember had to do with Barbie.
As invariably happens in most relationships between a girl and her Barbie, the day came when I decided to give her an ambitious, and unflattering haircut. It was an instantly regrettable decision I knew I would have to live with. I compensated by dressing her to the nines, tens, and elevens, and slowly discovering what my imagination was capable of. Barbie was my muse. I was dressing her, while she was showing me what was possible.
I was not alone in recognizing her potential. Over the decades Barbie wore everything from Dior and Versace to Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. My old friend had become an undeniable style icon. Years later, when Barbie was being blamed for instilling unrealistic body goals in young girls, I was well ahead of the curve and already struggling with self-loathing in a world hostile to big bodies – but the love of fashion that Barbie had sparked in me continued to burn.
Truth be told, I never saw her as representative of a body ideal - she was always just a doll to me, but I adored all those lovely clothes, shoes, and eventually, cleverly tied-together bits of fabric that made up my very first collection for an audience of one.
Barbie, it’s not you… it’s everyone else.
When Curvy Barbie came onto the scene she brought with her old misconceptions, and with them old grievances. Unintentionally mimicking the real world, Barbie’s colossal wardrobe options were conversely reflected in her curvy cousin’s lack. While Barbie allowed girls to imagine what it would be like to dress like a grown up, Curvy Barbie was an infantilized ‘woman-child’ in her loud florals and crayon-colored pallet. She seemed to be the one-dimensional sassy friend character with a ‘bubbly’ personality - neither a reflection of what there is, nor what there should be. What’s more, she wasn’t Michelle or Katy, she was just “Curvy” Barbie. Here we were again…with that same line drawn in the sand. There would be Barbie, and then there would be Curvy Barbie – with her lesser options, and her wacky clothes.
So with respect to my new friend, my old muse, and myself, I decided to reimagine what it would mean if this excellent step had been taken in a slightly different direction. In my capacity as a size 18 and as a fashion designer, I dressed ‘Curvy’ Barbie (who I named Sasha), in the clothes I would have liked - clothes my old friend Barbie would gladly wear herself. In the vein of other designers who’ve kitted out her slender cousin, I dressed the curvier doll to look as fashionable and stylish as the original.
This little capsule collection is a labor of love – and is dedicated to all the girls who will grow up in a more embracing world, where being a Sasha is just as wonderful and fashion forward as being a Barbie.
BY ALEXANDRA WALDMAN