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Playing with Barbie: doll-like femininity in the contemporary west

Whitney, Jennifer 2013. Playing with Barbie: doll-like femininity in the contemporary west. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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In the winter of 2009, Barbie celebrated her 50th birthday. The occasion was marked with all the pageantry befitting a debutante, starlet, or modern-day princess. Lavish parties were hosted in her honour, and fashion models impersonated the doll on the catwalk. Luxury brands created limited edition Barbie products—from cosmetics to cars—to commemorate the milestone. And, at the height of the revelry, the plastic doll even underwent ‘plastic surgery’ in order to squeeze into a couture pair of birthday stilettos. Taking this distinctive cultural moment as its starting point, this thesis examines how the Barbie doll’s complex and indefatigable cultural presence is understood in Western popular culture. A range of media and industries engage with representations of the doll: advertising, consumer, and celebrity cultures; the fashion, beauty, and cosmetic surgery industries; music; reality television; social networking; and pornography. This thesis interrogates how these media and industries, and the discursive practices therein, reproduce images and narratives of Barbie as a uniform and idealised representation of white, affluent femininity in the West. However, as her birthday celebrations suggest, Barbie is also written as a ‘real’ girl. This thesis also interrogates this narrative of ‘realness’ as it helps to explain why the doll has remained relevant for over 50 years, while complicating readings of her position as a uniform cultural object. Moreover, while Barbie is being portrayed as a ‘real’ girl, popular culture narratives also present ‘becoming Barbie’ as an achievable goal for young women and girls. Motivating this research throughout is the question of how such a referential relationship reinforces and destabilises constructions of the feminine subject in our postmodern and posthuman times.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 05:05

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