Barbie’s having a big year. Earlier this week, some three months after celebrating her 60th birthday, the doll took home the board of directors’ Tribute award at the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, the US fashion industry’s premier platform.
Barbie has many supporters. They say she has shown young girls that any profession is possible, is more inclusive than most other toys (there is now a wheelchair Barbie), has collaborated with countless designers and has shown commendable staying power. However, critics say that she has remained a whip-thin, cookie-cutter-pretty and, often, blonde-haired and blue-eyed embodiment of an idealised female form.
Beyond all this, the award feels like a missed opportunity to celebrate a real person’s contribution to fashion. Many individuals are working hard to propel the industry forward. Brands bucking stereotypes, publications celebrating body positivity and designers of colour promoting diversity are changing the way we look; conversations about tackling issues in sustainable manufacturing and responsible shopping are changing the way we consume. Are these efforts really best summed up by a doll? The decision to give the award to Barbie is only a few days old but it already feels dated.