When Dawn Duane Evans started buying Barbie dolls at garage sales, she planned on planting a “Barbie garden.” She had no idea that once she picked up the plastic princess, she wouldn’t be able to put her down.
Or would she?
Barbie turns 50 next year and, coincidently, Evans’ “2009 I Hate Barbie Calendar,” a photo parody, hit local bookstores a couple weeks ago – just in time to celebrate.
For each month, Evans posed Barbies – new and old – in a variety of situations and then sent the photos to a team of nine colleagues to get their reactions and input, and to help her narrow down her selections. The photos include a “pool party” where Barbies are relaxing in a toilet. There is also Barbie mud wrestling, among other out-of-the-norm activities.
On the lower right-hand corner of each page of the calendar is an interesting Barbie fact. For instance: The average American girl owns seven Barbies. Also, if every Barbie sold since 1959 were lined up head to toe, they would circle the earth seven times.
Evans says the 2,200 printed calendars were created half out of never being able to measure up to Barbie, (38-18-34) if she were human – a physical impossibility, and half because of, well, Detroit, Mich. Evans said growing up poor in one of America’s meanest cities raised a sense of social awareness within her. In her mind, Barbie was a social sickness.
“You can feel the pressure as a woman,” Evans said. “Unless you are born with that body.”
Evans thinks the calendar is coffee table humor, subtle but relevant: Barbie was born in 1959, Overeaters Anonymous was founded in 1961 and Weight Watchers began in 1963. And she’s still widely popular, as evidenced by the large sales numbers and heavily attended National Barbie Doll Convention. According to Mattel, a Barbie is sold every three seconds worldwide. Annually thousands of collectors flock to the National Barbie Doll Convention, spending up to $8,000 to snatch a rare Barbie.
In recent years more people have started to chime in on Barbie’s role in modern culture. Many have raised concerns that Barbie establishes unrealistic norms and values in children, which become central to their self-identity. For these people, the little doll helps deteriorate society.
In places like Saudi Arabia, Barbie has been banned, replaced with a doll called Fulla, a dark-eyed doll with, as her creator puts it, “Muslim values,” a jab at the blonde model that once lined shelves in the Middle East.
“There was a time when people weren’t conscious of her (Barbie’s) impact,” Evans said. “Modern norms say no.”
Evans has lived in Montana for 27 years. She has been an educator and artist, but also a self-described hillbilly raising llamas in the mountains. She’s a woman of few words, which is fine with her. She’d rather let her art speak for itself. And with her Barbie calendar, her most ambitious project to date, she knew it would hit a nerve with both sexes.
“Some people just looked at me with a raised brow,” she said, “like, get a job.”
Instead, Evans, who long ago made it a personal goal to wear blue jeans as her work attire, spent the winter playing dress-up, convinced that her calendar would appeal to a bigger market than the Flathead Valley. A percentage of the proceeds go to the Montana Woman Foundation, a nonprofit that awards scholarships to enhance education. She has also been invited to show her work in Los Angeles in October.
“It’s a whole new way to play with dolls,” Evans said. “Those little suckers are hard to dress.”
The Barbie calendar isn’t Evans’ first out-of-the-ordinary project. When her 13-year-old son Jay started losing teeth, Evans decided to design a redeemable toothfairy coin that, she says, didn’t have an old ugly white guy on it. The coins caught on, and Valley Bank decided to back them, though most kids held onto the coins instead of trading them for cash.
As a freckled tomboy growing up, Evans told her father she wanted to be an artist. He told her she would wind up poor and promiscuous. Today she is neither, and ironically, her father helped her get a start. When she started out as a poet, he paid the fees of the contests she entered.
“Maybe I’m finally doing what I want to do, and not being afraid to be a little out of bounds,” Evans said.
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