Hell froze over last week when Mattel introduced Fat Barbie. They’re calling her “curvy Barbie,” but, as she looks like she went from a size 0 to a size 12 overnight, I’m calling her “Fat Barbie.” To say this marks a point of departure from Mattel’s 57-year-old cornerstone brand is an understatement. Moms have been calling for a fashion doll that more accurately reflects the proportions of real women since the dawn of the feminist movement in the 1960s. But their wishes have always fallen on Mattel’s deaf ears, and each year Barbie appeared more sexualized than the year before. To be sure, Mattel defended its icon against charges of being a poor role model by giving her an increasing number of professions. Over the years, Barbie has been an astronaut, veterinarian, doctor, and even President. But she has also been a hair stylist, princess, and fairy. And her principal profession has always been that of a fashion model, forever subject to the male gaze.
Mattel’s long-standing tag line, “We girls can do anything, right Barbie?” continued to ring false as the number of model, princess, and fairy barbies continued to outnumber the odd astronaut and president thrown into the mix. And that shouldn’t be very much of a surprise. Those princesses and models sold like hotcakes. Little girls had long been instructed that their worth lie principally in their physical rather than cognitive attributes. Of course, we cannot lay the blame for this solely on the doorstep of Mattel. But Mattel’s marketing machine did its part to reinforce what little girls had always been taught by society at large: You are what you look like.
I find it interesting that Fat Barbie comes close on the heels of 2014’s Sports Illustrated Barbie, through which Mattel vehemently defended its iconic busty, anorexic fashion model. Equating Barbie with Sports Illustrated models was a slap in the face to the growing ranks of Barbie-denouncing moms. The SI swimsuit model is the very embodiment of anti-feminist sentiment. Her existence confirmed to concerned mothers everywhere what they had suspected all along: Barbie was the embodiment of Sex with a capital “S”–and the kind of sex of men’s misogynistic fantasies at that.
In what seemed like a emphatic slap in the face of feminists everywhere, Mattel adopted the hashtag #unapologetic as its marketing campaign for the swimsuit-clad, blonde-haired, blue-eyed model. “As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in the issue gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be #unapologetic,” Mattel stated in its press release. Take that, feminists. You may hate Barbie’s body, but it’s here to stay. And we’re going to shove it in your face in the most misogynistic way possible. Fuck you.
It’s no surprise that this created a backlash among the feminist set, which is what Mattel probably wanted. You can’t buy the kind of coverage that accompanied Barbie’s debut as an SI model. Everyone media outlet from CNN to The New York Times fell over themselves interviewing Mattel’s media machine and angry feminists everywhere. The clear winner? Mattel. Their SI model sold out in no time. Again, fuck you, feminists.
But wait. Such a bold move to position Barbie as an in-your-face anti-feminist icon reeked not a little of desperation. When Sports Illustrated Barbie made her debut, Barbie sales were tanking. In January 2014, Mattel’s Barbie sales were on a downward spiral. Barbie sales plummeted 20% from 2012 to 2014, and they continued to fall last year. In fact, Barbie sales have been down for four consecutive years now. Heads have rolled in Mattel’s executive suite as new talent with new ideas have tried to save the brand that was once the envy of toy makers everywhere.
So how do we reconcile SI Barbie with Fat Barbie, which appeared just two years later? Simple. Being unapologetic about her body didn’t do a damned thing for Barbie’s sales. So let’s give the hollering feminists what they’ve asked for all along and make a Barbie that actually looks like a real woman. What the hell. It’s not like things can get much worse.
Other companies had already beaten Mattel to the punch. In 2014, Nickolay Lamm launched “Lammily,” a realistically proportioned fashion doll, after a successful crowdfunding campaign to create a Barbie alternative. “Lammily” sold out on her first run, and she’s attracted a large following. An African-American Lammily is currently in the works.
Mattel’s marketing campaign for Fat Barbie is the polar opposite of that used to market Sports Illustrated Barbie. Whereas Mattel declared that SI Barbie unapologetically owned her busty, skinny, leggy body, the same company is now telling us that Barbies come in all shapes and sizes, and that should be celebrated. In a video Mattel released to introduce the dolls, a bespectacled little redheaded girl declares, “It’s so important for Barbies to look different. You know, like the real people in the world.”
“Curvy” isn’t the only new body Mattel has given its iconic doll. The company is also debuting “tall” and “petite” variations. But those latter two will be lost in the shuffle in the media frenzy currently buzzing around Fat Barbie. It’s an admirable effort to put Fat Barbie in with a mix of other alternative body types, and it gives the appearance that Mattel isn’t really caving on changing Barbie’s proportions from one type to another. They’re just giving girls a few more options. And, oh yeah, one of them is fat.
I predict that Mattel’s Fat Barbie will likely get a positive reception in the media. The coverage that I’ve read thus far all echo the same “it’s about time” sentiment. And, of course, it is about time. It’s fucking overdue. But will finally joining the 21st century revive Mattel’s Barbie sales? Will little girls who have been forever conditioned to perceive thinner bodies as more desirable bodies voluntarily reach for Fat Barbie?
This is just a quick post to wish my American readers a festive July 4th. I am currently in Colorado visiting with my husband’s family. My in-laws live in a mountain community of less than 1,000 residents. No more than a dozen businesses line its main street, and there is no stop light. It is a quirky town, and breathtakingly beautiful.
When we visited last summer, I took a doll with me and photographed her against the mountains, valleys, and lakes we came across. This year I am doing the same, with the added bonus of sharing my doll photography time with my 7-year-old niece, who brought along her American Girl doll. It’s been so much fun getting to share my love of dolls with a little girl who is just starting to become enchanted with them. As soon as I arrived, my niece unpacked her backpack of American Girl clothes and accessories, and we both began redressing our respective dolls. I adore my son, but it is so magical to be able to relate to a child through doll play. Playing cars and trains with my son just isn’t the same.
Today my niece and I took our dolls outdoors to photograph them for the Fourth of July holiday. A holiday craft project created by my mother-in-law provided a festive backdrop.
This year, my travel doll is “Sage,” a platinum Cinderella Tonner doll repainted by “K.” Sage wore some older Tonner separates for her photo shoot. I love the pieces that Tonner created for Tyler and friends when that line was in its heyday. They remain the basic staples of my dolls’ closet, and I return to my favorites (like Sage’s top) again and again.
Last year, Blush and Bashful Tyler accompanied us to Colorado. I was able to get some terrific photos during several day trips we took.
After our photo session was done, my niece and I headed for a playground, where our dolls joined us on the swings. It will be difficult to leave the crisp mountain air for Florida’s heat and humidity when we return home in a couple days.
Now that you’ve saved enough money to attend a doll convention this year (see my previous post for instructions), you of course need to decide which one to spend your hard-earned dolly dollars on. This year’s lineup of fashion doll gatherings takes place on the east coast, west coast, and everywhere in between—some even overseas. Doll conventions are surprising diverse, each attracting a different type of collector, so you want to make sure you choose the one(s) that you will get the most out of.
Conventions held by the major doll manufacturers are of course the most professional and polished, while others, which can be acts of love by volunteers, can have a more “homemade” feel. I’ve attended several Tonner Doll conventions, two Integrity Toys conventions, and several Modern Doll Collector conventions, so those are the only ones I can personally comment on. One of my perennial dreams is to attend the Paris Fashion Doll Festival, but as of now it remains just that—a dream. Feel free to donate to my “Send Barb to Paris” charity if you like, and I promise to write you a kick-ass blog entry in return.
For some convention-goers, location can be a significant factor in their decision regarding which event to attend, as they like to make the event a “family affair,” allowing spouses and/or kids to explore the surrounding area while they surround themselves with dolly madness. (In my experience, spouses and kids are rarely interested in attending the convention itself. And that’s usually a good thing.)
Last year, the Integrity convention was held in Orlando (big bonus for me, as I live in Tampa), and several attendees enjoyed a few days in Disney World before and after the convention. That said, most of the collectors I know don’t care where a convention is held, as the convention itself is the big draw for them—many would travel to Jupiter, if necessary, and just put up with the weather while they play with their dolls.
Below is a list of the major fashion doll conventions slated for 2015. If I’ve missed any big ones, please let me know, and I will add it to the list. I am including brief descriptions taken from convention websites and all necessary links. Enjoy your planning! (And if you need me to talk to your spouse to convince him/her that this will be an essential expense for the year’s budget, I’m more than happy to do so.)
From the IFDC website: You are cordially invited to the 13th Annual International Fashion Doll Convention! Bring your family and join your friends for a full 4-day legendary adventure in Las Vegas. There will be the Goody Bag, Big Salesroom, $15 and under Salesroom, Competition, Raffles, Exhibitions, Rock of Ages Bowling Tournament for doll prizes, Sister Act Slot Tournament for doll prizes, the Freebie Bags, Workshops, Seminars, A Treasure Hunt through the Casino……..and there will be surprises!
I’ve never been to an IFDC convention, but I hear that it is a great event that incorporates a significant number of activities. A number of doll companies are represented at this annual event, including Tonner Doll and Integrity Toys, which usually turn out pretty cool souvenir dolls.
Modern Doll incorporates breakout events from a wide variety of artists, spanning vinyl fashion dolls, fantasy resin BJDs, child dolls, and many others. I’ve attended this event twice, and each time was very enjoyable. In addition to adding to my collection exclusive dolls from artists I already collect, I’ve also discovered new artists who have made my collection more diverse. In 2014, the Modern Doll convention was hosted in Orlando (again, awesome for me), and Tonner Doll furnished the final banquet’s souvenir doll, from the Déjà vu collection. This year, Connie Lowe is creating the convention doll, and collectors who do not wish to purchase the doll have the option to pay a reduced registration price to attend. Modern Doll has even made a photo of the in-progress doll to help collectors make their choice.
Last year, I attended several breakout events hosted by artists I do not typically collect, and I was delighted by the dolls I received from Connie Lowe’s lunch and Helen Kish’s breakfast. If you do attend the convention this year, make sure you go to artist Nikki Britt’s event. Nikki is a young resin BJD artist of all of 23 years, and she is producing imaginative dolls unlike any other in the BJD market. I did not attend her event, and boy was I sorry when I saw the adorable BJD that was the souvenir. Nikki is headed places; don’t miss the opportunity to add one of her fantastic dolls to your collection.
One final comment on Modern Doll: It is clearly an act of love by a small group of retirees who work very hard to bring it together each year. They do a great job, but, that said, there are some noticeable bumps and bruises that at times give it a “homemade” flavor. Both times I attended the event, the participants tended to be much older. Not a lot of partying going on with this group. At the final event, organizers arranged for a cash bar in the back of the ballroom. I think myself and one bedraggled husband were the only patrons. The bartender did not look pleased with her empty tip jar.
Integrity generally does not announce its theme and convention date until later in the year, although they have announced that this year it will take place in Long Beach, California. The 2014 convention was over the Halloween weekend, and it also took place during Halloween in 2013, so I’m assuming that trend will continue. I’ve been to the Integrity convention twice now—when it was held in Orlando in 2011 and again in 2014. (There are definite perks to living in Florida.) I was left giddy with doll happiness each time. Integrity gives you a lot for your money (and it’s not cheap to attend), and they work hard to make sure you enjoy yourself. I also think the attendees of Integrity’s conventions are among the doll community’s most colorful characters, and that makes it all the more fun.
One note of caution: Collectors who attend the Integrity convention generally know their dolls. I consider myself an Integrity collector, but my knowledge of body types, characters, storylines, and sculpts paled in comparison to those around me. These are hard-core core collectors, and—more so than others of their ilk—they take their hobby very seriously. So, unless you can carry your own weight during a conversation regarding the multiple incarnations of Vanessa’s face sculpt over the years and which one is superior to which, be prepared to smile and nod a lot.
From Tonner Doll website: Don’t be shy – we’re all guilty here! Welcome to the wide world of guilty pleasures! Like decadent desserts, binge watching your favorite TV shows, and frivolous luxury, the 2015 Tonner Convention is going to be Wilde… especially since it’s in Dallas, TX – the Wild West! Famous for hosting more restaurants per capita than New York City, local celebs Bonnie and Clyde, its sheer love of country clubs and more, Dallas is an exciting, urban city that will no doubt be the perfect backdrop for all our Guilty Pleasures!
This year’s fun will kick off with registration starting Friday morning, from 10a-12p, with events beginning later that very afternoon. For those that delight in ‘evening’ wear, the PJ Party is BACK with a ferocious appetite for fun! AND prepare yourselves for a super fabulous 16” fashion doll souvenir – a BRAND NEW collection debut that we are excited to welcome (back) to the Tonner Family.
I’ve been to more Tonner Doll conventions than any other. Until my mother got Alzheimer’s, we went together each year, and each year, we had more fun than the previous one. For a long time, Tonner held its annual gathering in Chicago, but this year they are venturing into Texas. Like most doll manufacturers, Tonner’s employees work their butts off to make sure their attendees enjoy themselves. There are generally more hits than misses with their souvenir dolls, and their comedic presentations are invariably laugh-inducing. (This is the company that staged a doll wedding when Tyler Wentworth tied the knot with Matt O’Neill.)
Robert Tonner is one of the nicest people you ever want to meet, and he cheerfully endures what can most generously be described as the “over enthusiasm” of many of his fans. The company has managed to keep the event exciting throughout the years. The addition of Wilde Imagination and Tonner’s multiple comic book and movie licenses has added to the diversity of the dolls offered.
The waning popularity of Tonner’s fashion dolls in recent years (he has a lot more competition now than he had a decade ago) has meant that the company often has convention dolls left over, which it makes available to the public soon after the convention has ended. This has dampened the enthusiasm of many convention-goers (admittedly, including me), as a big drawn of conventions is the exclusivity of the dolls offered. If a collector can purchase an “exclusive” convention doll just a few days after the event without having to pay for an airline ticket, it kind of defeats the point.
That said, many collectors point out that there is no way to replicate the thrill of “being there” and enjoying several days of being with other collectors who “get” you and your hobby. Should you go to a Tonner Convention, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll agree.
P.S. It’s a poorly kept secret that an all-grown-up Marley Wentworth will make her debut at this year’s Tonner Convention. She’s the first addition to the Wentworth line in quite some time, so I expect collectors of the Wentworth dynasty (myself included) will be pretty psyched about this particular event.
Unfortunately, the Barbie Convention site has been down for the past week, and I’m unable to find information other than the time and place. I’ve never attended the Barbie Convention (produced and hosted by Mattel), but I’ve been told it’s as polished a doll event as you ever want to attend. If you have any more information about this event, please feel free to add it in the comments section.
From UFDC website: Join us for an exciting experience sharing our passions for dolls with friends and family. Fun filled days of educational activities, superb salesroom, themed meal events and sightseeing opportunities including tours of our UFDC headquarters and newly renovated museum.
UFDC bills itself as a no-nonsense, research-oriented institution. Local clubs that want to become officially associated with the UFDC must submit an application and pay dues. In fact, individual collectors must be formally invited to join an UFDC club, and likewise apply for membership and pay (modest) dues.
UFDC’s mission statement states that its global community aims to elevate doll-collecting by enabling the study of dolls: The home of our organization is our headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. From this hub UFDC is able to support the goals of its membership: to promote and assist in the preservation of dolls and historical documents pertaining to dolls; to serve as a clearing house for ideas pertaining to dolls; to promote and stimulate interest in the establishment and maintenance of museum doll collections and other permanent and temporary exhibits for display in public places; to assist the educational process through the sponsorship of and participation in lectures, seminars, conferences, and symposia; to publish a magazine to encourage the above enumerated charitable, scientific and educational activities.
I’m told the UFDC’s museum houses quite the collection, representing antique through modern fashion dolls. UFDC’s 2014 convention likewise featured a wide variety of doll artists, including Denis Bastien, Susan Fosnot, Beverly Stoehr, Helen Kish, and Kathe Kruse, among others. Like Modern Doll, I’m betting that it’s a good gathering for collectors open to discovering artists who are new to them.
From Madame Alexander Doll Club website: Each summer the Madame Alexander Doll Club holds it annual convention. It has been in locations all over the continental United States. During the convention, there are Events, Workshops, Seminars, A Competitive Exhibit, Sales Room, Raffle Room, Special Exhibit and the Annual MADC Meeting. It takes countless volunteers to hold this event, and we are thankful to everyone who helps out with their support.
I’ve only attended the Paris Fashion Doll Festival in my dreams, but I hear that it’s a terrific affair for fashion doll collectors the world over. This year’s souvenir doll will be a Barbie produced by Mattel exclusively for the convention. Wilde Imagination and Tonner Doll are also typically represented, and their event dolls are almost invariably TDF. I’ve spent years chasing after some of them on the secondary market. This year, Superdoll will also be represented, although its souvenir doll has somehow already sold out two months ahead of the event.
From the website: We geek out about dolls, learn new things, meet new people, and have lots of fun! We offer workshops to learn more about the care and design of your dolls – want to learn how to face-up your doll? Give it a manicure? Create your own doll? Perhaps you’d like to learn how to create and sew a corset for your doll using a sewing machine? Or make a wig? These are all things that we’ve offered at the convention previously, and we’re just getting started!
I don’t know much about this event, but, according to the website, this is a one-day gathering hosted by a St. Louis-based doll club is in its fourth year. The website states that the event typically draws about 50 people, so it seems to be a small affair.
Again, I don’t know much about this international event besides what I can see from its website. From what I can gather from the photos, good-looking men, drag shows, and alcohol play significant roles in the proceedings. And really, do you need any more motivation to attend than that? Barbie appears to be the main doll represented, and the 2015 souvenir doll is a Barbie dressed by Magia2000.
2014 doll convention photos:
In addition to these events, local clubs often sponsor “doll shows” in locations across the country. Rather than shows, these are typically one-day salesrooms, at which local retailers and informal sellers gather to sell their wares. There are usually one or two of these events within reasonable driving distance of me each year, and I enjoy attending them to see dolls in person that I can otherwise only see on the Internet. If you find one of these events near you (and most of them are held in the late winter or early spring), make an effort to attend. They are good places to meet fellow collectors in your area and perhaps pick up a doll you’ve been searching for. Doll Show USA lists events by state.
Once again, a post that I thought would take a few minutes to write has ended up being the length of a short novel. If you are still with me at this point, thanks for reading, and may all your doll convention dreams come true.