After more than 50 years now, Barbie has become an icon onto itself. To some, she represents an unattainable standard of beauty that continues to give little girls body issues (just look at Barbie’s waist!). To others, she represents a truly revolutionary figure whose femininity has always been wedded to a sense of unyielding careerism (just try and think of a job Barbie hasn’t tackled!). But above all, Barbie has always been synonymous with girls. Discussions of the cultural impact of the doll have hinged on her inescapability as a role model for girls around the world.
The ad for the newest designer iteration of the doll — Moschino Barbie — all but shatters this viewpoint.
Cheekily, it features among the usual grouping of multi-racial girls gathered around to play with the Barbie a blond boy who turns to the camera and states that “Moschino Barbie is so fierce!” Here are two of the most insidiously common gender stereotypes — boys don’t play with Barbies; boys don’t care about fashion — unabashedly deployed to sell what most still see as a girls' toy. It’s the first time the Mattel company has used a boy in its marketing, and already the move has been praised for its inclusivity, being seen as following the trend of companies like Target and Disney that have recently done away with labels like “boys” and “girls” for some of their children-targeted products.
What makes the Moschino Barbie ad different from other “progressive” advertising (like the recent Campbell Soup ad featuring real-life gay dads alongside their adopted son) is the way it doesn’t depend on normalcy. The soup ad, and others like it, are praised for the way they present the fact that “families come in all shapes and sizes”; it literalizes the commonly fought-for belief that gay men and women are “just like you.” Images of gay couples and families are in themselves already legible as “normal,” stressing as they do their similarity to known configurations of desire found in heterosexuals; when they are deployed in ads they both stress and reinscribe that normalcy.
"It's for you, Moschino Barbie!"
The Moschino Barbie ad is uninterested in known and so-called normal categories. In creating what Mattel and Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott call a “fauxmercial” from the '90s, they decided to cast a boy who resembles Scott; the designer has often praised Barbie as one of his early muses, a fact the designer’s collection earlier this year made quite explicit.
“The video celebrates how boys and girls alike play with Barbie,” said Mattel to BBC News. “It's all about self-expression, fashion, imagination, and storytelling.”
The ad’s transgressive appeal lies then in the way it not only upends gender stereotypes, but also flaunts their inadequacy, celebrating the fierce little boy Scott was and the fabulous fashion designer he became.
Manuel is a NYC-based writer interested in all things media and pop culture. He's a regular contributor to The Film Experience and Remezcla. His work has been featured in Mic News, Film Comment, and Model View Culture. He also has a PhD but hates bragging about it. www.mbetancourt.com