The Perils of Plastic Perfection



Dina Goldstein has a sharply cunning, and often slyly comical,  way of framing her interest in social issues through narrative-based photo projects that upend expectations of what her images are about. Her series “In The Dollhouse” – which has been the subject of  international museum exhibitions and much online chatter – is a pretty in pink example of how Goldstein manages to weave a story that might at first seem comical before you take in its more piquant, and profound, construct. In this case, it’s the fave rave glam team of Barbie and Ken who toy with our expectations and get the viewer to consider more deeply – below society’s plastic surface – the authentic truths of women’s lives that are too often neglected, belittled, cut down.  It’s always engrossing, and a bit wild, to talk to Dina about her photographic work which is essential to her commitment to reframe the conversation about social justice.   Come on Barbie, let’s go party – uh, maybe not.

 “Shaped into Barbie’s form – and all her fabulous clothes – is the cultural expectation that her life is charmed. She is the ultimate material girl meant to have it all – iconic beauty, gravity-defying breasts, salon-perfect hair, wafer-thin waistline, any job that she wants and a boyfriend content to live in her shadow for more than 50 years.” 

– Barry Dumka  



The Perils of Plastic Perfection

Since her 1959 debut wearing stilettos and a zebra print bikini to the tagline, “a shapely teenage fashion model” and theme song Barbie You’re Beautiful, Barbara Millicent Roberts has been a lightning rod for debate about the socio-cultural expectations for female identity. She certainly looked different from the typical baby-faced dolls of her day. Tall, thin, golden-haired and glossily made up, Barbie was modeled after Lilli, a curvy sexualised doll sold in German bars to adult men based on a racy comic strip character. Equally as buxom, Barbie expressed her personality through her body image, wardrobe and lifestyle. Acquisitive and carefree, Barbie is the glamour girl of a mythic America where being perfect, popular and plastic is the highest ideal. As a corporate-sponsored American princess, Barbie was made to live the dream of a good life.


That’s not Barbie’s fate in Dina Goldstein’s hands.


For her second conceptual series of large-format photographic tableaus, Goldstein subverts the storybook storyline of Barbie and her blow-dried boyfriend Ken. Using the sequential narrative form common to comic books, Goldstein places the long-time couple in a custom-manufactured alternative reality of her own design and decoration. A pink on pink playhouse that seems sweetly perfumed for romance. Even the pillows insist on love. But the candy-coloured interiors and playful appeal of the iconic dolls are Goldstein’s Pop Surrealist lure to engage an audience about serious issues. In The Dollhouse is social documentary photography masquerading as a puppet show. The series of 10 panels unfolds a tragicomic tale of the perils of being plastic and the potential for salvation through authenticity.  Barbie gets the short end of that stick – in Goldstein’s telling of her story, she endures psychological dysfunction, an emotional breakdown, a really bad haircut and, ultimately, decapitation.

Life wasn’t supposed to be this hard for Barbie.



— (end of excerpt)






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