Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not Your Mama's Barbie Doll

Barfing Barbie

I have just discovered a new art form - Altered Barbies. There is a show in San Francisco every October featuring such works as Barbie Hugging the Porcelain, Gene Simmons begging Barbie, Deaf Jewish Lesbian Barbie and S&M Barbie.

Why was I never told? I have a rather tortured relationship with Barbie. We have never been friends and in fact, with unthinkable cruelty I refused to buy one for my younger daughter when she was a child and instead, foisted the more elegant Madame Alexander dolls on her. I completely missed the point. All her friends had Barbies, and my intransigence on this issue was more reprehensible than refusing to buy my son a toy gun had been.

It wasn't the breasts that offended me, but the fact that Barbie's feet were perpetually flexed for high heels, which seemed to imply that any proper woman wore cruel shoes at all times. The tackiness of the dolls was also a factor. But a little girl's wishes were dashed in the process, and I lost track of that far more important issue in my earnest desire to elevate her tastes. I think that as soon as we make something so insignificant about us and our values, bad parenting ensues. What is more, I should have known better. My own mother never bought me the patent leather maryjanes I coveted, nor would she allow me to wear anything remotely "fancy." Ruffles, bows and lace were outlawed from my wardrobe no matter what the other children wore. So if I had it to do over, i would buy my daughter every Barbie on the market. But sadly, there are no do-overs with child rearing.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

The Rubaiyat - Omar Khayyam - 11th century. He was surely a parent as well as a poet.

LaVonne Sallee is the artist whose works are featured here:

Gene Simmons Begging Barbie

Deaf Jewish Lesbian Barbie - no mean trick, reading the Torah in sign language. She must be blind as well; hence, the dark glasses.

S&M Barbie

Anorexic Barbie

Three-headed Pit Bull Barbie

Centaur Barbie

I rather love this one:

Jean August Ingres - The Bather

I'm still waiting for a Senior Citizen Barbie - after all, she's over fifty years old now. And everyone knows that fifty is the new nineteen.


Meggie said...

I was a mean mother too, & never bought Barbie for my daughter! I decided Daisy was ok, she was the English verysion, and not so impossibly proportioned- aslo much prettier of face.
However as a result, by Granddaughter was given many Barbies, and I am ashamed to say I gave her one, when she was in Hospital rather ill.We were so desperate for her to get well, we would have given her anything her little heart desired!
I enjoyed the Altered Barbies!

TechnoBabe said...

I never liked Barbie, never had one, never bought my daughters one. She was too skinny and her body wasn't soft. I wanted dolls to have softer bodies. I did get my older daughter a Thumbelina doll, did you see those? It was the one she wanted. Thankfully, she did not want a Barbie.
Because if she had and I had bestowed a Barbie on her I would have been buying a Ken and cars and clothes and gadgets for years.

Whitney Lee said...

Love this!
As for your comment about making something insignificant about us and bad parenting ensuing, it's a nice reminder. I've yet to reach that stage, but I know it's going to come eventually. I have vowed to celebrate whomever my daughter chooses to be, no matter how different it may be from myself, but when it comes down to it I know it'll be a struggle.

nick said...

I'd never discovered Altered Barbies. They're hilarious! A great antidote to the impossibly artificial original. I see there's also a Barbie on the cross!

I guess all parents go through that experience of denying their child something they really want out of well-meaning principle, convinced it will do them some awful harm. In my case it was a different school more suited to my particular personality.

Fortunately in the long-term most kids tend to make light of such deprivations or even forget all about them.

Warty Mammal said...

I have to find this exhibit and check it out! Thanks for alerting us to its existence.

secret agent woman said...

I had Barbie's red-headed cousin, Stacy. She used to go camping with my brother's G.I.Joe. But otherwise, I wasn't a fan of dolls as a kid EXCEPT for the one my father refused to get for me, a ballerina doll with a crown. I longed for that doll. So now, unless it is somethng I am fully morally opposed to (such as the guns) i get my kids what they ask for as gifts no matter how silly I think it is.

(Huh. Word verification is "contract.")

mischief said...

I'd like to see Pregnant-and-already-Mother-of-two-Barbie refusing to buy her daughter Barbies to play with.

My mother didn't believe in buying Barbies either and I don't think it did me any lasting harm. Except that I don't wear heels. (Good job, Mum.)(Good job, heart.)

Cecilieaux said...

Love these ... more!

jess said...

We weren't allowed to have Barbies either but I'm actually glad. Though it wasn't a big issue with my sisters & I. The altered Barbies are hilarious!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I used to fantasize about bizarre Barbies that never were, cracking myself up, and now they ARE.

I'm glad your granddaughter pulled through, no matter what it took.


It's true. The original doll was quite inexpensive, but the clothes and accessories including the Malibu beach house and the Barbiemobile were not. The Madame Alexander dolls I bought were far more costly, but it wasn't about the dolls. It was about the institution or sisterhood of Barbie owners.


You are already way ahead of the game because you're aware now, while she's little. She's a real cutie - I enjoyed her pictures on your blog so much.


Yep, Barbie on the cross. There is also one of her carrying a cross. Ms. Sallee scandalizes some people but she does get noticed, and one cannot be an artist in a vacuum. (Or can one? If a tree falls in the forest...)


I'll meet you there. No way am I going to miss the next one, which will be the 8th Annual Altered Barbie Show.


Your comment reminded me of the Christmas I got a doll I had wanted - 2 or 3 years before. By then I was 11 and wanted a bicycle. I can't begin to guess what my parents were thinking.


You forgot to mention that your Pregnant-and-already-Mother-of-two Barbie is a Brownie Scout.


There are more! LaVonne Sallee was interviewed on TV last night and they showed some of her other oeuvres like Adam & Eve with fig leaves plus some rather pornographic ones, but I couldn't find pictures online. There is also Mermaid Barbie and Wiccan Barbie. I would like to create Leda and the Swan Barbie and I think that Yeats, who had himself implanted with monkey gonads, would approve.

Molly said...

Yeats had monkey gonad implants???

My girls liked to play with Barbies. But I preferred to buy them Mme. Alexander dolls, and wholesome looking German dolls. But I think, subconsciously, those were for me! The cheap, outlandishly proportioned Barbies were the ones they played with!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


They are far more interesting than the blank-eyed improbably proportioned but anatomically incorrect blond goddesses (with their little pointed feet.)


Yeats had the surgery at age 69 and credited it with rejuvenating him both sexually and artistically. The magnificence of his poetry to the end of his life cannot be argued, but as for the rest, who knows whether it was beneficial for itself or for its placebo effect?

You're right - the beautiful, well-made dolls were for ourselves but our daughters were children not only of us but of their culture. And I suspect the culture wins every time.

the walking man said...

I don't know what my ex bought my daughter with my child support money but I do know my stepson never wanted a Barbie Doll. Not even in his choice of girlfriends.

NoRegrets said...

Oh, I so have to see that show sometime. I'm moving to San Francisco, with my boyfriend. Where should I live?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Hooray for your stepson! Women who resemble Barbie are hard to stomach.

No Regrets,

Since the city is so small, you'll be pretty near everything no matter where you live. Good luck with your move.

Anonymous said...

hey, I heard this analysis for the first time from an american, I thought that only people in the east think like this, but no...
I know somebody who would not buy barbie dolls for similar reasons of elevated taste as you did.

I having grown up in that, feel that, what u did was rather good.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I didn't know they had Barbie dolls in your country. That's too bad.

Chick said...

These are great, I like how Barbie always smiles & now in some of these scenes she even has nipples...brilliant.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I think the woman who reworks them is going for realism regarding the nipples. Which kind of makes you wonder about other, hidden parts of the dolls.

Thanks for your visit.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I can't get up off the floor for laughing... ahhhhh so funny.

Barbie irritates me, but Bratz dolls send me *right through the roof* with fury. It's my inner feminazi that comes UN-HINGED over those. I'll quit now so as not to leave scorch marks on your lovely blog.

And true, about changing the past, whether written, spoken, done or undone, it cannot be changed and more's the pity.
We can learn, though, and I'm so grateful for that.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Bratz dolls are imitation Barbies, aren't they ? (Now that's a bizarre concept - schlock imitating schlock.)

I wouldn't have been quite so disinclined if there had been a Rocket Scientist Barbie or a Poet Barbie. Even a Lion Tamer Barbie would have worked for me as long as it came with a lion or two. Preferably real.

Cloudia said...

Saw you at Jo's blog.
Great post.

Love the Bay! I'll be back (like your governator)

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Jocelyn said...

I am so loving the images of Barbie that end your post that I very nearly sidestepped commenting on the IMPORTANT part of your post, which are the observations about parenting and how parental agendas are so silly--this feeling that we make decisions that will shape our kids. Sure, we do. But mostly, guns and Barbies, so long as they're allowed, will blow through. It's only when they're denied that they gain power.

Jo said...

Here you go, Susan. *heh*

I never liked Barbie, but my daughter liked them, so I always bought her Barbie. It turns out she has been in therapy for five years ( ... just kidding ... ) because what she really wanted was an Easy Bake oven, and she never got one. She could never figure out why she told Santa year after year that she wanted one and he never brought her one.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Hi Cloudia,

I've seen you at Jo's place, too. Lucky you live Hawaii.

I love Oahu - so I'LL be back! But meanwhile, thank you for visiting me here.


You're a wise woman. Anything denied is likely to become a big issue later. I'm finally over my yearnings for patent leather maryjanes and ruffled pinafores, but only because they don't come in my size.


That is hilarious! I'm sure I woke up the neighbors shrieking with laughter. It's looks as if Barbie got that Easy Bake Oven and used it every day.

I was offended by little homemaker "toys" as a child because on some level, I thought I would grow up to be a guy. Not really, but I wanted the freedoms males had, and the much more interesting playthings.

Maria said...

I never denied Liv a Barbie doll, but I did insist that we not buy a new one. We picked up ours at Goodwills. At one point, she had about ten of them and we used to have diving contests for them in our bathtub. I was mean spirited, though. I had the blonde Barbies talk in dense, idiotic, shrill voices and the dark haired Barbies always won the contests.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's good to know the Dumb Blonde is alive and well in the heartland.

Anonymous said...

I love the Bather, too, but that's probably because it brings out the latent Dirty Old Man in me. But, Barfing Barbie takes the prize. That is so cool.

Anonymous said...

I love the Bather as well. Brings out the humble, the shy, the vulnerable side of Barbie.

And there is something oddly appealing about the Gene Simmons one -- his tongue, him on his knees (is he begging? asking for something), the zebra print.

Thanks for the smile.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Some things should stay latent.


I think imitating a famous painting is pretty cheeky. :)

On a limb with Claudia said...

Wow, those are gorgeous! I've never seen them before either. I had a hate-like relationship with Barbies. I like to have them but never played with them. Eventually I threw them all away.

riseoutofme said...

Barbie hadn't made it across the Atlantic while I was in the doll wanting stage ... Maybe I should feel deprived?

I did buy ONE (under pressure) for one of my daughters ... she didn't last very long though ... chewing fodder for the infant psychotic hound ...

Sadly, there were no tears shed.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It sounds as if you wanted to fit in but had no real interest in them yourself. Did you ever think about all the poor starving children in Bangladesh who had no Barbies? :)


Oh, that's so terribly sad, although I must admit that the image of Barbie torn apart by voracious bloody teeth makes me giggle just a little. Is that wrong?

riseoutofme said...

So VERY wrong indeed, you heartless woman.

Won't you get a surprise when Ken is manning the pearly gates?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Aren't you assuming that I'll be at the pearly gates and not the fiery ones?

Laura Lee said...

So... why wait for it?! create the senior citizen barbie and show us all! These are great, I love it!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Laura Lee,

What a great idea! Better yet, maybe I could do a Dorian Gray thing and give all my wrinkles to her.

riseoutofme said...

Pardon my assumption Hearts ...

But you ARE aware that Barbie is manning the fiery gates?

I have this on very good authority.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


So either way I'm screwed. Uh oh. It's hardly worth being good OR bad then, but thanks for the heads up.

Los Angelista said...

I'm worried that I love S&M Barbie as much as I do. How very cool!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Dominatrix Liz,

Now I'm worried about you, too.

But I don't even LIKE oreos. said...

Not only do I still wish I'd had the whole Barbie fantasy (Malibu dream house, every career on the planet, etc...) i also developed an obsession with high heels. See what good this did me? had you only bought me a damn barbie.. I'd probably have been the granola-crunchie girl you wanted me to be, with zero interest in fashion, the color pink, or Southern California.
Let this be your lesson...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I do get it. You're right, and just perfect exactly as you are.


The Moon Topples said...

Wait, if 50 is the new nineteen, then how old am I in the new calculations? (freaks out)

I enjoy the clever takes on Barbie®, even though it was never something that registered as a cultural icon for me as a youth.

alphawoman said...

I loved this.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I can't answer that because I don't know how old you are, but I'm pretty sure you were never a little girl, which would explain your lack of interest in Barbie.


So did I, both as iconoclast and lover of creativity.

Thanks for your visit!

Aeris said...

This is awesome!

Los Angelista said...

Heart - been meaning to tell you this probably inspired a display in a shop window in my neighborhood. Good grief:

Anonymous said...

Hey - where's blogging Barbie?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for your visit!


The link wouldn't open, but I'm sure many people have thought of parodying Barbie - I know I have over the years.


Blogging Barbie needs to get her ass in gear.

Chaviva said...

Oh, goodness, here I am, another mummy who bought no Barbies for her baby! But if THESE Barbies had been available, I might've rethought the whole thing!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Maybe we should start a Bad Mothers club. I agree - if these had been available, my daughter might have won that battle.

Abang Aneh said...

Goood you ok

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Abang Aneh,

Thank you for your visit and comment.

Barbie Dress Up said...

I am a Barbie dress up games fan my self. I can't believe that they are really hella creative. Love their awesome artworks.

Barbie Dress Up said...

I am a Barbie dress up games fan my self. I can't believe that they are really hella creative. Love their awesome artworks.