Updated: Aug 24
Barbie, the iconic fashion doll that has captured the hearts of millions of children worldwide, has long been a subject of debate within feminist circles. Critics argue that Barbie perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes and unrealistic beauty standards, while supporters assert that she represents empowerment and limitless possibilities for young minds. In this review, we explore Trina's personal evolution of Barbie and its reflection of feminism through the lens of Trina Celeste's insightful book, "Orchestrating Life-Work Harmony," where the author recounts her experience with her niece and their attempts to challenge and remove traditional messages associated with Barbie.
The Evolving Barbie
Over the years, Barbie has undergone significant transformations, both in her appearance and her portrayal of roles in society. Initially introduced in 1959 as a teenage fashion model, Barbie was indeed a reflection of the limited opportunities available to women during that era. However, as women's roles evolved and society progressed, so did Barbie. She has taken on various careers, from astronauts and doctors to engineers and CEOs, aiming to showcase women in diverse and empowering roles.
Trina Celeste's Journey with Barbie
In her book, "Orchestrating Life-Work Harmony," Trina Celeste shares her personal account of the impacts of Barbie in her own life and breaking constructs of being either a woman or an engineer. In her recount of her frustration, "I would get bored sitting around the Barbie house. You can only decorate so often, and put on so many outfits before you need to get out of the house." Unfortunately, or fortunately, her family could not afford the pink corvette so she built motorized vehicles using an erector set her parents had invested in. Her Barbies were probably some of the first Barbie ATV's saying, "I would race my Barbies outdoors in the mountains surrounding our home."
"I had the opportunity to purchase the same erector set a few years ago, build motorized cars with my son and race Barbie around the house busting down figurative walls of gender, and literal walls of red solo cups.
More recently, Trina recalls spending time with her niece and engaging in imaginative play with Barbie dolls. During these play sessions, she encountered messages that reinforced traditional gender roles, such as "Barbie, it's time to get married" Trina's response, "No, I don't need to get married." Her three year old niece defiantly questioned her response, then finally relented asking, "Okay Barbie, time to make dinner." Trina's response, "Okay, where is Ken?"
Additionally, as Trina dressed her dolls her niece had comments like "No, Aunt Trina, Ken dolls don't wear dresses," which exemplified harmful ideas about masculinity and clothing choices. "It was a great afternoon reintroducing ideas of femininity and masculinity, and it surprised me just how embedded these messages were even from the age of three."
Feminism and Barbie: Parallel Perspectives
Trina Celeste's experience with her niece and Barbie echoes the wider feminist discourse about the impact of toys on children's perceptions of gender roles. It highlights the importance of providing children with toys that encourage diversity, inclusion, and empowerment, regardless of their gender.
1. Breaking Gender Stereotypes
Feminism strives to break free from the shackles of rigid gender norms. By challenging messages like "Barbie, time to get married" or "Barbie, time to make dinner," we recognize that women can aspire to more than just traditional domestic roles. Barbie can be a CEO, an engineer, or a scientist, proving that girls can dream beyond what society once dictated for them.
2. Redefining Masculinity
Feminism is not just about empowering women; it also aims to dismantle harmful ideas about masculinity. The comment "Barbie, Ken dolls don't wear dresses" reinforces the idea that boys should conform to a limited set of behaviors and clothing choices. By allowing Ken to explore different outfits, jobs, and roles within the home we encourage boys to express themselves freely and break the stereotypes that stifle individuality.
3. Cultivating Inclusivity
Feminism advocates for inclusivity and diversity, urging us to embrace differences and celebrate unique qualities. Barbie's evolution over the years, with dolls of various ethnicities, body types, and abilities, demonstrates the importance of representation. When children see themselves reflected in the toys they play with, it fosters a sense of belonging and self-worth.
In 2021, Trina was introduced to Tan France by a friend as "Tech Barbie." Later her friend asked if she had offended her, "No! I love the idea that we can be beautiful like Barbie as well as love fashion, engineering, and design.
We are breaking down the barriers that keep us staying in our lane." Like the Barbie movie, we are too often pressured to be in a box. We may not be literally getting in box like in the movie, we are pushed into boxes that keep us where other expect us to be. When we push outside those norms we get socialized pressure to push us to where others expectations are most comfortable.
As we navigate the complexities of feminism and its implications in modern society, it is crucial to critically examine the messages children receive from popular culture, including toys like Barbie. Trina Celeste's experience with her niece serves as a reminder that toys play a significant role in shaping young minds. By removing limiting messages and stereotypes from Barbie's narrative, we can transform her into a symbol of empowerment and inspiration for future generations. Barbie, as a cultural icon, has the potential to evolve alongside feminist ideals, embracing diversity and representing the limitless possibilities that every child, regardless of gender, should have the chance to explore.