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Did Barbie cause a paucity of pink, and controversies she caused in the past

After captivating the hearts of young girls for generations, Barbie has apparently caused the “world to run out of pink”.

Barbie the movie is set to hit the silver screen in July, and in a recent interview, production designer Sarah Greenwood said that “the world ran out of pink” during the construction of Barbieland and life-size versions of the doll’s Dreamhouse.

Barbie stars Margot Robbie in the titular role and Ryan Gosling as Ken.

Was there a real paucity of pink?

Though six-time Oscar nominee Greenwood’s comment went viral, in an interview to another publication, Lauren Proud, vice-president of global marketing at Rosco, the company that provided paint for the film set, stated that the shooting of the film was taking place at a time when the global supply chain had been affected by Covid. In the interview, Proud added that severe weather in Texas in 2021 had also impacted essential material required to make the paint.

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Barbieland is reportedly inspired by the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs in California, paintings by American artist Wayne Thiebaud, and the film An American in Paris, among others. It has been painted bright pink, to capture the spirit of Barbie’s universe and to preserve its “the kid-ness”, in the words of the film’s director Greta Gerwig.

Birth of Barbie

Created by Ruth Handler, co-founder of toy company Mattel, the doll made its debut in 1959 dressed in a zebra-striped swimsuit. Named Barbara Millicent Roberts (Barbie, in short), she was based on a paper doll that Handler saw her daughter Barbara playing with. Handler wanted to design a doll more durable than the fragile paper figure. She is also believed to be inspired by Bild Lilli, a fashion doll based on an adult comic strip character that she came across during a trip to Europe. The first Barbie was priced at $3.

Her changing avatars

Since her birth, Barbie has had over 200 careers and counting, and is trying to take more inclusive and progressive forms. Though a standard Barbie doll is around 11.5 inch tall, her appearance has changed several times over the years.

Barbie travelled into space in 1965, the same year that Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first human to walk in space. In 1992, she ran the race for president, while in 1973, she first appeared as a surgeon in a medical gown. The “Inspiring Women” series includes the likes of American activist Rosa Parks and poet and civil right activist Maya Angelou in 2021. During the pandemic, Mattel released a range of dolls to commemorate frontline workers, including Sarah Gilbert, the woman who co-created the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Controversies

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Less than a decade after it was launched at the American Toy Fair in New York City, Barbie was facing criticism from feminists for her extremely skinny body. Some Barbie models didn’t help matters — in 1963, the ‘babysitter Barbie’ was sold with a doll-sized diet book titled ‘How to lose weight: don’t eat’. In 1992, a ‘teen talk Barbie’ came with pre-programmed phrases such as “Math class is tough!”, which invited disapproval for setting wrong perceptions.

A 2006 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology found that girls exposed to Barbie at a young age were more concerned about being thin than those who weren’t.

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At other times, the criticism has had to do with factors other than the welfare of kids — in September 2003, Saudi Arabia declared the Barbie “a threat to morality”, having already banned the sale of the dolls earlier.

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