Guest Post By Jamie Kazay

May 27, 2013 · Print This Article

Barbie and La Nouvelle Vague (part 2)

I remember my first Barbie. I received her as a Christmas present from my Aunt Diane.  My aunt gave me other dolls (Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch Kids) over the years, but none consumed my imagination like Barbie. And even after she lost a leg—I’d flushed her down the toilet in an effort to gain attention—I still played with her.  I played with her alone. I played with her alongside the kids from down the street (the “bad ones” my parents worried would improperly influence me). We played Malibu Barbie, Wedding Barbie, and Travel Barbie.  In an instant we were teleported with the accessories she wore.

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Wedding Barbie and Ken, 1959 Reproduction (Photo taken from Jonathan’s Blog)


I can appreciate Dr. Cunningham’s concerns that Barbie is overtly sexual. I can even ignore my mother’s eye-roll as I tell her about the importance of Barbie—she only became a symbol as my social consciousness was formed.  To my-1986-self Barbie was static and the epitome of femaleness. As I use words like “static” and “femaleness,” I’m keenly aware that this is my-2013-self dissecting the feelings of childhood. Barbie was my girlhood friend.  In fact, she was reminiscent of “Yvonne,” played by Michèle Méritz in “Le Beau Serge” (“Handsome Serge”). She, like Barbie, could bend and lose—endure hardship and remain hopeful. In the end, Yvonne birthed a viable baby. In the end Barbie is the ultimate feminist and symbol of womanhood.  And, “some feminists actually believe she is the symbol of female emancipation because she works and does not have to depend on men for her wealth and possessions,” Kristin Riddick argues (“Barbie: The Image of Us All”). Despite her amorphous state, my experiences with Barbie are quite tangible.


Photo taken from rvision


I became a writer while playing with Barbie.  It occurred during the fall, well as much of fall that ever visits Pasadena, California. So, this means it was September, and the new school year had just begun, I was six or seven.  While taking “Ocean Barbie” and “Baby Keiko” the whale out of the box, I read the description about their origin and it became clear that the story lacked pertinent details. Barbie’s text needed more variation and a valuable reworking of characteristics. I realized that the name “Ocean Barbie” was without history. That meant, in the moment, I could continuously edit her title and rewrite her story.  I could make her story mine by writing about identity.  What makes Barbie different from me? I wondered.  And, I thought, what makes us similar? I already understood that people were fragmented, that they were driven by thoughts and feelings. Barbie did not possess this ability. But I knew that she had an identity.  She is Ken’s girlfriend, Midge’s friend, Skipper’s sister. As I jotted these details down, I considered their significance. I knew that where you come from has a major part in shaping who you later become.  I wrote an elaborate tale about Barbie’s birth and childhood.  Did you know that Barbie was adopted? The words boomed, sometimes creaking, as they filled my coloring book. This process continued for some time.


Photo taken from my french film festival


Play time with Barbie created a space for the infinite possibilities that language enables. This is, albeit a different medium, how the principles of La Nouvelle Vague operate. Within this movement there seems to be an intense need to circle-back, to recreate, and to satirize all with the intention to provide a variety of end results. It is the distance that is traveled while watching these films that should be observed. They provide a wealth of possibilities. For instance, in “À bout de souffle” I am amused by the collage of scenes that jump back and forth like a child playing jump rope. The mismatched shots pull from a variety of American cultural references. I recount the jazz notes and sounds, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, Humphrey Bogart, and countless other references. As I played with Barbie, I adapted. I coordinated a sense of wonder and culture, and this established my freedom to create.

Imagination is essential to my connection with Barbie. Amanda Kingsbury, author of “Social Structure of the Playground,” observed children as they chose and played with the toys. She writes, “There is usually a continuous story being told about what Barbie’s doing, where she’s going, and what she’s thinking.” What would Barbie think of the identity I’ve given her? I wonder. Would she care that I defend her. Would she want to be defended? And, as I write in my journal, I wonder: Would Barbie prefer the narrative instead of the poems?



Jamie Kazay teaches in the English Department at Columbia College. A California native, she holds a BA in English from California State University, Northridge and an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry from Columbia College. She co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series and is currently reading of a lot of Camus, Derrida, and Dorothy Allison. Her collection, Small Hollering, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2011.

Guest Post by Jamie Kazay

April 22, 2013 · Print This Article


Photo taken from Fashion Doll Guide

Barbie and La Nouvelle Vague (part 1)

It is my interest in what Jean Luc Godard thought about Barbie, if he ever thought about Barbie, which leads me here. Pick out any one of his films as a point of reference and watch for the female protagonist. She has the essence—the je ne sais quoi. And, her hair is elegant, neatly coiffed, falling in place like the snow on all of Chicago and sliding against my window.  It’s 2p.m., but it looks more like 7p.m. outside. I love her. I hate her. Barbie shaped my social consciousness. This afternoon “Barbie, Barbie, Barbie” is my constant mantra. She represents the essential feminist that I want to be and the sexual icon so many love to hate. Perhaps this is why Godard used Barbie’s essence as a point of reference when casting his female characters. Consider Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg, in “À bout de souffle” (“Breathless”) and Camille Javal, played by Brigitte Bardot in “Le Mépris” (“Contempt”), these protagonists are much like Barbie as they appear ambivalently sexy, intelligent, stylishly dressed, and all the while aloof.

It’s also at this point that I must note that Barbie helped to close the “racial divide” of my childhood. A year after I was born (1980), Mattel embraced the “changing times.” The company began to produce “multicultural” Barbie(s). So, when I played with Barbie I never had to worry about being “black” or “white.” She was “politically correct,” especially since Midge (Barbie) was introduced to represent “mixed” girls and “family” life. Midge and the other “multicultural” Barbie(s) meant well, but overall they reinforced “stereotypes.” Nonetheless, I remember playing with Midge and Barbie. The focus shifted to how “pretty” they were, how “thin” they were, and how the blue of Barbie’s eyes reminded me of my grandmother. It’s so “cliché” to say that I wanted to dress like Barbie. I thought, at 8, that I was a doll. My mother called, and still calls, me “JamieDoll.” Perhaps a defense of my close connection is necessary as I realize that people like Dr. Kamy Cunningham say that Barbie is the “anti-clone for every woman who wishes to be more than surface deep, she is the alter ego ideal for American m[e]n [—the] virgin/whore she makes men out of little boys” (Barbie Doll Culture and the American Wasteland).  It’s not easy being Barbie.

And, it must be understood that I see Barbie’s anatomical faults. Laurell K. Hamilton wonders, “Did you know that if Barbie was a real woman with those proportions, she’d have to carry her kidneys in her purse” (The Killing Dance). I marvel, as Barbie’s body is a scientific feat and her eyes are those of Bambi’s if ever reincarnated. But, I digress. I’m not a woman that wants Barbie’s measurements. I’m a woman that, on a recent trip home to California, hugged my mother only to feel her unruly scarf the color of Barbie pink. The unmistakable pink used to market Barbie’s uncomplicated, uncluttered life. I saw Barbie’s independence in every strand of my mother’s scarf. I find a defense for Barbie at every corner.

The notion behind my mantra was reinforced as I watched Ann Romney take the stage during the Republican National Convention (RNC). Would Godard have cast Romney to play one of his protagonists? She certainly looked the part with her perfectly coiffed blonde hair falling on her shoulders, red lipstick, red silk-taffeta dress, with cuffed sleeves and small V-neck, and black leather heels. The je ne sais quoi of Romney’s ensemble was its shade of red. It vacillated from fire-engine red to cerise to “Jolly Rancher red” (New York Times). Romney was reminiscent of Angela Récamier, played by Anna Karina in “Une femme est une femme” (“A Woman is a Woman”) as she mirrored Angela’s gentle pursuit and spoke with phrases full of spunk.  Now, I’m pacing in my office, spooning through a jar of peanut butter—the natural kind, the kind with water on the rim. Barbie posters are stacked on the desk and Midge (Barbie) is back in her box. I wonder if Barbie likes peanut butter?


Jamie Kazay teaches in the English Department at Columbia College. A California native, she holds a BA in English from California State University, Northridge and an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry from Columbia College. She co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series and is currently reading of a lot of Camus, Derrida, and Dorothy Allison. Her collection, Small Hollering, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2011.