This picture has hung in my bathroom for over a decade.
The Art of Barbie
It’s from an exhibition called The Art of Barbie that was at the Cooper Gallery in Barnsley so long ago we were still using 171 in front of phone numbers in London (you can see this if you scroll in!).
An arts worker based at the Cooper and I created a project about body image, primarily for young women.
We were curious if and how Barbie and everything she represents challenged young women with a closer examination into what influenced their views on their own and each others’ bodies.
This was well before the days of smart phones and filters on cameras and apps. It was so long ago I cannot find easy reference to the exhibition itself anywhere online. Barbie has inspired many art projects, suffice to say. She’s more than a 64 year old doll.
What our project did involve, in addition to the Barbie exhibition, was looking at images of women from other sources, including their own art inspired by artists such as Henry Moore at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (one of my favourite places on the planet).
Art involves choice-making and manifestation, two of the many reasons it is so integral to our development as individuals and as a species.
Barbie – a feminist film
My daughter, now in her mid-twenties, was a toddler when I worked on this project. She has grown up with the Barbie poster, albeit depicting a radically different Barbie with black lipstick and clothes designed by Prada and Alexander McQueen among others.
Thus when she asked me to go to the film with her on the opening weekend, it was perhaps with a slightly different reference point than might be imagined.
To be honest, I took us both to be more Oppenheimer people. However, she and her partner were already scheduled to see Oppy together.
I was pretty happy to find that fundamentally this is a mother-daughter film. For it is the difficulty of that relationship that disturbs Barbie’s bubble and catalyses all of the action.
And I found out subsequently that this was a Margot Robbie project and it was she who hired Greta Gerwig to direct this film and they both see it as firmly feminist.
By the end – and I won’t spoil it for you – the impact of the action involving Barbie on the mother-daughter relationship is quite profound, even among the more explicit feminist messages that sit more prominently on the surface of the film.
Daughters and Mothers – the most complex relationship
This is familiar terrain for me, having run a group for a year called Daughter and Mothers: An Exploration of a Complex Relationship. It was funded by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) and we created a podcast with a professional independent female radio journalist. You can listen to it HERE.
Over ten years later, I am still so moved by the sharing of the insights and stories and the beautiful song written and performed by a young woman who attended with her mother. (It’s on the podcast so you can hear it there!)
Which brings me back to the Barbie film.
Being with my daughter, now in her mid-twenties, I can see that our current loving relationship has been forged by many…let’s call it what it often felt like, battles.
The heartache connected to a mother and daughter relationship is like no other. And I think that is more common than not.
The joy of sitting in that cinema, watching a film with my daughter who came up specially to see her mother and told none of her friends she’d be in town that weekend, is an example of why it’s all worth it.