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

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.

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.

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.”


10 thoughts on “A pop culture paradox: Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen as a Barbie

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  1. “Under those cool clothes, Katniss is still a plastic product of unattainable perfection.” I think this part really says it all. While it’s great that we’ve stepped away from what we usually expect in a Barbie doll, you’re right: underneath the Katniss Everdeen getup, this is still a doll whose body and beauty standard is incredibly unrealistic. Although this blog made me really think about the ambivalence here. It really is hard to decide whether this is something empowering for girls or completely skewing the positive perception of Katniss that we have.

  2. I consider every step towards a healthy body type, necessary and progressive.
    I would rather have a doll that shows some powerful traits, than the barrage of unhealthy skeletal monster high dolls and scantily dressed barbie dolls, that other people buy for my daughter. I understand that each of my daughters will at some point compare their bodies to movie stars or to the other girls at school. It is my responsibility, as a parent, to give them a healthy perspective about their bodies and to ensure that they stay healthy and thankful for what they have. Until the Katniss doll my only option for a powerful female doll was the Mulan barbie doll. I can’t say for sure that my daughter will like the Katniss doll, but at least she has an option. Perhaps someday a doll will have healthy attainable measurements. Let’s use our energy to take that next step instead.

  3. I say screw this. I just finished the book yesterday, and the entire point of Katniss is not to be a Barbie Doll. I still think that Barbies are incredibly dumb.

  4. Barbie’s proportions were never meant to replicate the body of a nude woman. They were meant to make her look like a woman after being dressed in miniaturized clothing that usually has a lot more bulk at the seams that full scale human clothing has. Mattel did a great job with Katniss!

  5. Diana-
    It sounds like you are really empowering your daughters and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to hear mothers reinforcing healthy messages to their children. This was entirely absent from my own upbringing so I am so grateful for the future of girls who have mothers like you, that take responsibility for providing a foundation of positive body messages and emphasizing health over size.

  6. I agree with your points, but as a tomboy I’m excited girls will have their own action figure now. We need to have Rue as another doll, so Black girls can get in on the action too.

  7. Barbie has something for haters of every stripe. The Right feels threatened by Barbie’s independence–and her breasts. The Left feels threatened by Barbie’s breasts–and by her independence.

    I thought that companies such as Blue Box Toys, Dragon Models Limited, Visions and Dreams or a half-dozen others could have come up with a better Katniss Everdeen–but only Mattel and Hasbro have the deep pockets to buy the license and the distribution network for market synergy with the film. Note the 5 doll limit–to counter “collectors” (I call them “investors” who vacuum up the latest craze in the hopes of cashing in later–see “Toy Story 2” for an example that Pixar mocked). What? You missed “Toy Story 2” and Tour Guide Barbie???

  8. Mary got it. I was a G I Joe fan during the 1960’s but didn’t get excited about that body–it was little more than a clothes horse to display uniforms and equipment. The scale differences between 2 inches to the foot and full scale…

    Besides, there used to be Bild Lilli. Her shoes WERE her feet! And those feet were impossibly small due to a human conceit: small feet equals small genitals. It isn’t just Europeans–the Chinese foot binding bought into that conceit, too.

    Try female action figures from companies like Dragon, Blue Box, Dreams and Visions–and Hasbro…

  9. Realistic measurements? Let’s start with height–my Katniss doll measures 11 inches to the heels of her feet, 11.5 on tip-toe. I don’t know of any real-life women under 4 feet 8 inches, and there may be many–the average American woman is five foot four. Not very many joints either–but a step up from the original toy.

    Nope. Women aren’t toys. A woman under a foot long isn’t much of a threat. Better shell out for life-size mannikins. They’re out there.

  10. Jackie,

    Hasbro had a short-lived female action figure back in 1967–but the G I Jane Action Nurse was too far ahead of the market.

    Beginning in the 1990’s companies such as Dragon, 21st Century Toys and Elenor’s Girls hit the shelves. Many women will object to the fact that the female action figures are often military-themed, or feature Anime characters, or come from action/adventure movies.

    Besides, Barbie is a career woman. Always has been. If I can believe the propaganda about the glass ceiling, it is “unrealistic” to expect a woman to succeed in a career, too.

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