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A pop culture paradox: Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen as a Barbie

By May 1, 2012 10 Comments

BarbieCollector.com has announced the arrival of the Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen clone, but replicating the character as a Barbie doll feels at odds with the very essence of the character’s power.

A "Barbie-fied" Katniss: Progressive or Regressive?

Joining the ever-growing pop culture collection, the Katniss emulation is sold alongside other blockbuster-inspired dolls: classic favorites like the belly-baring I Dream of Jeannie doll, royalty replicas of Wedding Will and Kate, and the ubiquitous Twilight duo. Part of this assortment also surprisingly included female versions of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

So of course the powers that be at mega-toy-giant Mattel know a good business decision when they see one, and The Hunger Games is no exception. To be fair, the actual doll version has Katniss dressed in her Games attire, her braid trailing down her back, and a mini Mockingjay pin affixed to her lapel. She even has her signature bevy of arrows slung across her back, bow and quiver in hand, boot-clad, and poised for action.

With a purchasing limit of five and a price tag of $29.95, the doll isn’t the doe-eyed damsel typically associated with the traditional Barbie. But I am still skeptical as to whether morphing Katniss into a Barbie reduces all the empowerment and aspiration her character represents.

As Larkin so eloquently pointed out in her last piece on Bald Barbie, Barbie dolls historically have symbolized deeply embedded female stereotypes, the pinnacle of femininity, and arguably a historical pop-culture mark of objectification. Not to mention how they model unrealistic body proportions and reinforce specific standards of beauty and attractiveness. While the diversity in terms of race has expanded in years, it is still drastically unequal. The majority of BarbieCollector’s offerings pander to the classic collector and are not sold in stores, which is unfortunate. It is the non-traditional dolls that should be adorning shelves, not the countless carbon copies of the same Malibu crew.

In comparison to the other characters that Mattel has modeled their dolls after, Katniss appears progressive. Sure, she isn’t a twin of Happy Birthday Barbie in a bejeweled ball gown, or her Mermaid cousin clothed in swaths of iridescent shimmer and sporting a frilly fin.

Don't be fooled: beneath the warrior wear is the same manufactured mold.

The aim of the doll isn’t to combat the inherent stereotype deeply embedded into the Barbie identity, but rather, as creating designer Bill Greening told Entertainment Weekly, he “chose to dress her in the outfit she wears during the games, since this is where all the non-stop action takes place and is instantly recognizable by fans.” So, the fact that she is not rivaling her Barbie cohorts in her Reaping dress has less to do with honoring the positive and empowering attributes of her character and more to do with character continuity.

Also what about the anti-corporate beliefs that the character in the film holds and her commitment to rebellion against the Capitol? Barbie is famously a mark of mass merchandising efforts on so many fronts. Surely Katniss would be against becoming a product in the same way she frequently states that doesn’t want to be an object, a pawn in the Games. Isn’t making her character into a doll doing the same thing?

Mattel’s aim is certainly more of a calculated business decision rather than any attempt to offer up a more realistic role model or combat traditional stereotypes about their dolls and what they mean for girls and women.

Sure, Katniss is a welcomed sight among the sparkly swimsuits and glittering garbs that adorn many of the other selections on the site. But Mattel has been complicit with culturally commodifying women for decades. Now when they appear to softly step outside the box to capitalize on Katniss and grab a slice of the prosperous pie that is The Hunger Games, they are to be lauded? I don’t think so.

While the doll’s outfit resembles Katniss’, her proportions still remain ridiculously unrepresentative of reality. Little girls who play with Barbies are still subconsciously receiving the message of an ideal body type and definition of attractiveness. Under those cool clothes, Katniss is still a plastic product of unattainable perfection.

Do you think this doll reinforces stereotypes or combats them? Should we give credit to a company who unintentionally produces products that go against a stereotype they have spent decades creating and reinforcing? To me, this is a zero-sum game; same “Barbie” different “cover.”