Nobody is Perfect. Not Even Barbie & Ken.

If you’ve been following my Instagram, you have probably noticed that for the past few weekends I’ve been attending Sleepytown’s local flea market, helping my Mom with her vintage clothing and jewelry business. The flea market is an interesting place full of bizarre finds and quirky, colourful characters selling their wares. One of my favourite sellers is an older lady who sells vintage toys. Thanks to her, Joe the Intern with has had new “friends” arriving at Skinny Dip headquarters on a weekly basis.

I was purchasing this guy from her last week when she said to me, “You know, I’ve always thought Ken was kind of gay.” Considering this was coming from a white haired, 70-something grandma type, I had to laugh. I  agreed with her and we spent the next 10 minutes having a very frank and hilarious conversation about men, sexuality and Ken dolls…at the flea market.

When I came home, I told the story to my Mom. A few days later she called me to tell me about this article that she’d stumbled across in the Georgia Straight, our local alternative newspaper.

Vancouver based photographer extraordinaire Dina Goldstein – the artist behind 2009’s Fallen Princesses series (Snow White as weary housewife or Pocahontas as lonely cat lady, anyone?) has turned her skewed lens on iconic couple, Barbie and Ken, in a collection of 10 images titled In the Dollhouse.

Inspired by the traditional gender rolls she saw her daughters reproduce while playing with the dolls, Goldstein decided to take a closer look at the famous dolls, and became convinced that Ken was definitely not a ladies’ man. As she told the Georgia Straight, “Mattel has totally, I think, emasculated him. It’s like, come on… I started playing with dolls in my head, and started thinking that this marriage [with Barbie] has been imposed on him, and now he’s just breaking free and breaking loose, and finding his authentic self.”

Created over 30 days and shot in a purpose built set located in a former art gallery, the series follows the marital breakdown of the world’s most famous set of dolls, depicted by human models. The photos are pretty amazing, which is why I’m sharing them with you today.

Ken and Barbie reading in Bed. It’s OK Ken, those “O” relationship stories get to me too.

Barbie, I feel you. It’s never a good feeling when you’re half naked and your partner is more interested in his hair dryer than what’s under your monogrammed towel.

The subconscious is a murky place. Both Ken and Barbie dream of a moustachioed GI Joe.

Tea time is totally awkward when your beloved insists on wearing your favourite pair of bright pink pumps. The look on Barbie’s face says it all.

I’ve always thought that the beginning of the end is when you start peeing in front of your partner…or in this case, when he starts shaving his legs in front of you. You can tell from this photo that things have definitely changed between Barbie and Ken.

Eventually Ken stops showing up for dinner at the Dream House all together.

Leaving Barbie to her own devices.

Suspicions are confirmed when Ken is caught in a same sex affair by a hapless Barbie. However, the more Ken happily embraces his true self, the more Barbie falls apart.

Eventually, in an homage to Frida Kahlo’s Self Portrait With Cropped Hair, she cuts off her golden tresses and tearfully dons Ken’s suit. The final photograph in the series consists of Barbie losing her head – literally.

Although the photos are highly entertaining they also have a dark edge to them, one that’s loaded with social commentary. As Goldstein explains in the Georgia Straight article, it’s not just about questioning gender roles, “It’s also about marriage, about the difficulty of marriage, about authenticity, about the concept of perfect.”

The obsession with perfection is fuelled by the internet. Whether it’s via Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or the legion of gorgeous blogs out there, it’s hard to make it through a day without being bombarded with images of other people’s so-called perfect lives and begin comparing our selves to others. Trust me, I know all about this. I spent most of my twenties comparing myself to others and making myself feel bad in the process. It’s something I still struggle with today. I think the first step to dealing with the idea of “perfection” is to recognize it doesn’t really exist.

Having worked as an editorial and commercial photographer for many years, Goldstein knows all about this. As she told the Georgia Straight, she insists “there is no perfect. I think people, especially in western culture, strive for this unattainable perfection in their life. I know, as a photographer, that all this stuff, this perfection, is set up with the right lighting, with the perfect props—the food in food magazines, a lot of it isn’t even real. I know all the tricks. And all of this is spoon-fed to people, but it’s not real.”

Her photos of Barbie and Ken are a reminder of this. Regardless of what you see on TV, Pinterest, blogs or Instagram, you never really see the full story when it comes to people’s lives and relationships. More often than not they are far from perfect. For example, some of you may just assume that my life is always sexy and that I spend most of my days in designer clothes contemplating pretty shoes and lingerie – which couldn’t be further from the truth – despite what Instagram (or Sex in the City) would have you to believe.

My life is just as messy, complicated and uncertain as anyone else’s. Focusing on the fun and prettier aspects of my life helps me stay focused on the positive during during those times when I feel like I’m losing my shit. I like to think that I’m not the only blogger who feels this way. At some point we’ve all had that moment Barbie is experiencing in that last photo, whether we decided to grab the scissors or not.

I think if we could stop focusing on perfection and instead acknowledge that we’re all just trying to do the best we can, we’d be a lot better off.

Group Hug?

(all photos found here and here)

  • Great post! I always suspected Ken was batting for the other team too haha. It’s true, you never know a person’s whole story. I’m sure I seem really like my life is perfect and my toddler can do no wrong if you look at my Facebook. It’s not that I’m trying to paint an untrue picture – it’s just a place where I can focus on the positives and not air dirty laundry that is private and personal (I save that for twitter of course haha – kidding! Kind of…). I think people get the public social media persona mixed up with their private selves and end up comparing themselves to the highlights reels instead of realising there are so many more dimensions to each person. I know I can plead guilty at times.

  • Oh wow. I fell in love with Goldstein’s Fallen Princesses since I saw them in Vancouver on January 2010. Such a different twist on the stories we grew up reenacting. And, as you mentioned, reflect broader issues happening in society. Wow. Thank you for introducing me to her latest series. (And your analysis was awesome.)

    • skinny_dip

      You’re welcome! I love the Fallen Princesses too. I wish I could have seen either series “live” in Vancouver! She’s so talented.

  • This is so intense & beautiful & dark &… realistic. Thanks for sharing, & for the reminder that comparisons are baseless when we don’t have the whole story – & frankly, we never do. Ever.

    • skinny_dip

      You’re welcome! I’m really glad that you liked them. And yes, I agree – we never really have the full story, unless we’re actually there living it ourselves.

  • graceelena

    I agree. It is easy to get wrapped up in online personas. I tend to claim that my blog and facebook represent me exactly but in reality I have doubts and feelings of being scared far more often that I acknowledge to others. I certainly limit what I put out there. I am an optimist and like sharing the positive because it keeps me feeling focused like you, but sometimes I think I should share the bad too for a more real insight into my life.

    • skinny_dip

      I think it’s totally OK to hold back what you put out there. Even though it seems like I put a lot out there, there SO MUCH I don’t say. You’ve got to keep some stuff just for you & close friends, right? Also, I know you’re going to be a superstar politician so you actually have a very valid practical reason for not sharing as much 🙂

  • Steph

    Love it, yes lets focus on having fun amiss the chaos that is all of our lives!

    • skinny_dip

      Yes, lets!!

  • Scarlett Wonderland

    Oh my god these are incredible! When it comes to blogging/social media people often make their life out to be a fairytale, but you rarely see the reality of what’s behind the lense. x

    • skinny_dip

      I know right?! And yes, I totally agree with you. 100 percent.

  • Colleen S.

    What brilliant social commentary on North American culture. And so perfect coming from you, given your intern. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!

    • skinny_dip

      Thanks! I figure it was fitting considering Joe 😉