Photography: Tramaine George
Earlier this year, Barbie got a much needed and long overdue makeover—the notoriously anatomically incorrect doll finally comes in more realistic shapes and sizes. This past weekend, Barbie got another, totally different kind of makeover. Designers Sandra Gagalo, of SAGA NYC, and Natalya Nyn, of Toy Syndrome, curated a show, Barbie Does Puberty, with work from 12 different artists, including their own work, focused on “society’s understanding of gender, sexuality and body image as it relates to puberty on the Barbie.”
Gagalo and Nyn sent Barbies to Aleia Murawksi, Giancarlo Corbacho, Jean-Sebastien Coles, Le Le, Liberty Leben, Marie Tomanova, Nicky Ottav, Olga Geletina, Orrin Hunter and Phil Gomez, so the artists could interpret the dolls and puberty in their own way. Feeling like puberty is underrepresented and often difficult to discuss, Gagalo and Nyn wanted to explore different experiences with adolescence and how it relates to such a classic icon.
“We found that a lot of people had a story of how uncomfortable it was to talk about, or they did not fully understand what was happening to them during that time of their life,” they said. “We wanted to create an artist platform with visual content and turn it into something fun and easy to engage with.”
The artists used the dolls to portray puberty in a number of different forms across various mediums, from photography to mixed media. Aleia Murawksi deconstructed Barbie’s body and disguised her in a plate of food to represent the unease that comes with puberty and a changing body.
“Puberty and growing up is about unknowns—it’s about discovering your body and the anxieties that surround these changes, and these anxieties happen within subtle daily space,” Murawski said. “Even a plate of food can represent how you think you look [or] feel. I wanted Barbie to exist in a space that is less about her physical body and more about the environment she may find herself lost in.”
Other artists, like Gagalo and Giancarlo Corbacho, created digital images of Barbie to express how puberty manifests in the modern world. Corbacho, in their piece, Life in Plastic, shows Barbie in a transparent box with a lucid, plastic body to comment on “femme visibility and vulnerability in various facets of contemporary society.” Gagalo’s digital print, Insta Puberty App, mimics an iPhone application, reflecting society’s reliance on technology and the inherent lack of information and support available for developing adolescents.
Phil Gomez also focused on the the digital space, examining the positive sides of growing up in a tech-driven world. Through Fetish Barbie, Gomez illustrates the different ways girls can “play out their stories and spark their imaginations,” in a time where innocence is not necessarily as important, and the Internet offers endless possibilities.
Barbie Does Puberty raised questions about the relationship between puberty and digital media, as well as the role Barbie plays in shaping girls’ ideas of growing up. Olga Geletina, whose piece ‘[Im]perceptions’ analyzes body image, said “Barbie has long been touted and criticized as an icon of idealized beauty.” She continued, “Yet, as a society we sometimes neglect to realize that our imperfections make us human. Our imperfections make us beautiful. Our imperfections make us perfect.”