In 1999 Tom Forsythe created a series of photographs titled “Food Chain Barbie”, depicting America’s sweetheart in a variety of compromising nude poses with common kitchen appliances. When Matell discovered the artwork they demanded that Forsythe stop selling his prints and filed a lawsuit against him, citing copyright infringement. The case, which called into question the rights of free speech and fair use of cultural icons, persisted a grueling five years before it was finally settled in 2004. At settlement a federal judge ruled in Forsythe’s favor, instructing Mattel to pay the artiest 1.8 million dollars in legal fees and court costs. A few years later, Freeculture.org, an international student movement known for championing the right to free speech and “open cultural space”, founded Barbie In A Blender Day as a way to commemorate the precedent setting struggle. Celebrated each July 27th, Barbie In a Blender Day encourages participants around the world to take and share their own photos inspired by Tom Forsythe’s case. Rebekah Baglini of Freeculture.org calls the project “a response to…a rare triumph in a time in which too often elements of our culture are off-limits and fair use rights challenged.”
I wasn’t much of a “Barbie girl” when I was little, preferring instead to play with He-Man dolls and pound puppies. I was always turned off by Barbie’s ludicrously long legs and perky bust. To me, she was the ultimate irony: Astronaut Barbie, Firefighter Barbie, and Paleontologist Barbie proved that a woman could be whatever she wanted; but this lesson seemed at odds with her image, as her plastic body promoted unrealistic and potentially dangerous physical ideals. I know — Barbie is only a toy, just a doll — so how could anyone think she might be dangerous? Well, for a lot of little girls, Barbie is their first, and their favorite, toy. She may even be their first non-parental role model. Which makes me wonder: what is the message, exactly, that we’re sending to our youth? Barbie, in some ways, has become an icon of how far our perceptions of beauty have strayed.
And I’ve always kind of hated her for it…which is one of the reasons I was looking forward to celebrating today’s “unofficial”. It resonates with something deep inside of me. In fact, a few years ago (long before I’de ever heard of Barbie In A Blender Day) I created my own piece of Barbie-inspired artwork.