Jess transformed into the IRL version of the first ever plus-size Barbie, which was officially called the "Curvy Barbie." When this doll debuted in 2016, she was thrilled — having experienced firsthand how important representation can be to kids.
Jess owned several Barbies as a child, but she suddenly realized that some people admired Barbie's looks more than her achievements. "When I was younger I always heard people compliment thin women by saying that they were 'so thin, tall, and beautiful like Barbie,'" Jess said. "She was what I wanted to look like. Years later, they introduced the first plus-size Barbie and it felt amazing to see a doll that represented me."
However, when it was time to wear Curvy Barbie's short, see-through mesh dress, she wasn't exactly thrilled.
Barbie forced Jess, who already has awesome style, to take a fashion risk. It showed how Barbies of all sizes don't have to play it safe, and have the right to show off their body no matter their body type. "I'm down for a challenge, but this outfit isn't something I would wear," Jess said. "But I channeled the fashionable, fun, and happy person I would pretend Barbie was when I would play with her."
"The dress was much shorter than anything I would ever wear. I decided to put my discomfort aside, because to me, it was about becoming Barbie," Jess explained.
Plus-size sheer mesh dress ($12.99, Forever 21)
However, Jess faced her fears and SLAYED in the dress, even though she wasn't exactly comfortable. Even posing was a challenge. "Posing felt awkward at first," Jess said. "I think I was trying to make my body look as 'flattering' as possible to make it seem thinner. Then I realized that Plus-size Barbie was meant to look like me."
"I definitely didn't feel like myself but that was the beauty of it," Jess explained. "It forced me to try something I normally wouldn't."
Although Jess was out of her comfort zone, she finally saw herself in the doll she used to spend hours playing with. "Barbie reminds me of the dreams I had as a young girl. I was a big dreamer but I never thought I would be able to accomplish anything unless I got thinner. Now it's a reminder that things change," Jess said.
Alle transformed into the doll that started it all — the 1959 original Barbie.
Even though Alle wasn't a Barbie fan as a child, over the years she noticed how Barbie's body shape slowly influenced what society deems "ideal" for women.
"Though I only had two Barbies and I mostly ignored them, the way those dolls looked probably did influence the way I felt about my own body," Alle mused. "I just assumed that part of growing up was becoming very thin and busty the way Barbie was. Barbie's body was normal — I thought mine was abnormal by comparison."
Although it's been almost 60 years since she first appeared, Barbie's body shape hadn't really changed much until a few years ago.
"This doll sent the message that the 'perfect' woman is tall, thin, able-bodied, beautiful, white, blonde (usually), wealthy, and heterosexual," Alle said. "All other people who fall outside those standards don’t GET dolls that look like them, because they’re NOT AS GOOD."
It really has taken decades for the Barbie doll to break away from that association.
Despite the first doll perpetuating a very limited view of what's beautiful, Alle braved the challenge of transforming into Barbie.
Recreating that beauty look was definitely an undertaking. "We're talking full foundation. Eyeliner. Bright blue shadow. Overdrawn red lips. Highlight everywhere, including on my legs. Compared to what I normally wear, this is A LOT. And the hair was another beast entirely."
"I have a bob, and Barbie always has very long hair," explained Alle. "So I faked it...This entire hair look was held together with bobby pins, a full can of hairspray, and prayers."
Also, we're not sure what beach Barbie was going to do with a full face of makeup and curled hair, but her swimsuit seemed slightly more realistic.
Although we're not sure if Barbie is doing any serious swimming with a strapless swimsuit — Alle's version is WAY more functional, since it actually has straps.
After a series of failures, Alle eventually found the La Blanca Mime Games Mitred One Piece Swimsuit ($95.20, Bloomingdales). "It was SO HARD to find a striped one-piece swimsuit in 2017," she said. "Even though I didn’t try it on until the day of the shoot, this one fit amazingly. My Barbie makeover made me feel incredible."
"Whether it’s intentional or not, Barbie teaches children a lot about what womanhood means in our society," said Alle. "But as that definition has changed, Barbie needs to change, too."
"This doll should show that there are more ways to be beautiful and valuable than thin, blonde, white women who like to shop. Barbie’s meant to be a role model for all of us. Let her really represent!"
Cindy became queen of the sea as mermaid Barbie. "Though I had the dolls, Barbie never felt like a meaningful thing to me," she said. "I played with the dolls, but they were a random toy — because none of them ever looked like me."
Over the years, Cindy has seen how Barbie's image — even in mermaid form — could have an impact on how women saw themselves. "Now that I am older, people speak out about the lack of diversity in the Barbies we played with growing up," Cindy explained. "It made me realize that Barbie was more than a toy, it can actually impact your self-image."
Although Cindy was excited to transform into her favorite Barbie, she did reflect on how Barbie's white, blonde, thin, and straight-haired look influenced society, and indirectly, her self-image.
"The Barbies of my youth definitely reinforced Eurocentric standards of beauty," Cindy said. "I didn't get it then, but Barbies looking one way did make it harder to accept yourself if you don't fit into that cookie cutter mold."
As a Latina, she often felt pressured to fit those Eurocentric standards of beauty, which Barbie upheld. "I felt pressure to live up to this ideal," said Cindy. "I was made to feel the most beautiful when my hair was perfectly straight, my makeup was perfect, and I wasn't overweight."
TV Store Online mermaid tail ($25.95, TV Store Online)
Other than the fin, Mermaid Barbie definitely fit society's views of beauty. "My family is from the Dominican Republic and its history of colonialism and slavery heavily impacted what future generations consider beautiful. My curly frizzy hair, facial features, and body type don't fit into that all," Cindy lamented. "Barbie represents those ideals that I wasn't built to reach, but I don't blame her. This way of thinking is rooted in our troubling history, and I've worked very hard as an adult to break free of that and be proud of what makes me unique."
Even though Cindy is a makeup fanatic, even she was taken aback by the doll's under-the-sea look. "I didn't realize how much makeup I'd need to really nail Barbie's look," Cindy pointed out. "Flawless foundation and seriously extra amounts of highlighter were a must to get that plastic Barbie look on point."
Cindy usually opts for more quick and edgy makeup looks, but the biggest change was the full body highlighter, since it was so time-intensive.
"This is vastly different from my normal makeup look which is a brown smoky eye sans eyeliner — I rarely ever give myself enough time for that — with a nude or statement red lip," she said. "It was a change to see myself look like this, and it made me appreciate my regular look even more."
Through the transformation, Cindy realized that Barbie can be a woman of color who celebrates her curves and her hair texture.
It's rare to see curvy women, much less curvy mermaids, celebrated and Cindy's look broke the "cookie cutter" mold.
"Barbie's persona is inspiring because she can be whoever she wants to be or you want her to be... she can take on any role. So even though I look nothing like her, I've definitely had to be as flexible as she is in the career department," Cindy said.
For Brittany, who grew up LOVING Barbie, the chance to become her favorite childhood toy was irresistible.
"I called dibs on Workout Barbie before Mary could even finish explaining the story," Brittany said. "My personal brand is fitness and wine. If there was a Wine Country Barbie, it would’ve been a tough pick."
But the actual name of this 1983 classic doll is "Great Shape Barbie." Talk about concerning!
The name of the doll — which only dropped a few decades ago, mind you — could reinforce the idea that getting Barbie's body meant that you had a "great shape," to the exclusion of all other shapes. Damn.
Also, here's an ad for the doll from 1983.
She's not *really* doing much in the ad, but simply being admired for her legwarmers and her sweatband. But wait — right before Barbie could potentially work up a sweat she's whisked away for a date with Ken. Sigh.
"I enjoyed transforming into Barbie, because by doing so, I thought about how 'Barbie' can be anyone," Brittany said. "You can be any shape, size, color, height, or ethnicity."
Stretch is Comfort Women's Unitard ($19.97, Amazon)
Brittany also felt like she and Workout Barbie had other things in common. "I feel like we have the same persona. We wear workout clothes, motivate others to move their bodies so they can be healthy, and we’re always smiling. The actual doll definitely has bigger boobs though," Brittany added.
Although Brittany was all about the bold unitard, the makeup was another story. "My everyday look — in and out of the gym — is a bare face," said Brittany. "So this was a change."
We're not exactly sure why Barbie would go to the gym with a FULL face of makeup, but she does slay wherever she goes. "Barbie sported a turquoise eye and baby pink lips, so I loaded on the eyeshadow and swiped on the lipstick," she described. "Never in a million years would I ever wear this makeup to the gym."
"I loved Barbie as a child, but as an adult, my perception of her has changed," Brittany explained.
"As a child, I saw a toy. As an adult, I see a doll with a tiny waist, huge boobs, long legs, and blonde hair. That's a lot of pressure," Brittany pointed out. By transforming into Barbie, she saw how Barbie could be anybody and that what's deemed a "great shape" is completely subjective.
Finally, I transformed myself into my plastic hero — Presidential Barbie. Though I *loved* Barbie as a child, the doll's body shape still has lingering effects on my self-image to this day.
As an adult, I know that Barbie's cartoonish dimensions would mathematically make her fall over. When I was younger, I definitely didn't know that — I just wanted Barbie boobs. I saw that many women were perceived as more attractive the larger their chest was, because when you're a kid, you don't realize the many issues that come with larger breasts.
I'm still smaller in the bust area, and I still struggle to love my body today.
Body shape aside, Presidential Barbie reminded me of the ambitious Black Barbies that my mom would give me as a child.
There have been Presidential Barbies since 1992, but this red pantsuit-wearing candidate has my vote. By seeing Barbies that were the same color as me, I never thought that anything was unattainable.
Why not be a president this week, then an astronaut the next, and throw in prima ballerina on the weekend? Although we have YET to have a Black female president — heck even a female president — it's still nice to see that the dolls young girls play with can inspire their imaginations.
Transforming into this Barbie was an experience. I thought I would feel powerful, but once I buttoned up my pantsuit, I was surprised to feel really uncomfortable.
Express 24 inch one button jacket ($128, Express)
I think I look like a fierce leader, but standing like that just threw everything off. I wanted her to have a stronger, more commander-in-chief-like pose. I didn't really see much difference in her stance than the other dolls, even though she's running the whole damn country!
My presidential makeup look was more than I was expecting — but I did love the red lipstick. EVERYBODY should have a red lipstick that makes them feel powerful, confident, and badass.
The rest of my makeup, though? I'm still not sure. My face has NEVER been that highlighted before in my life. Goodness. Although it helped get that ~Barbie~ plastic look, it definitely was a little much for a life in non-plastic politics.
As a woman of color, it was inspiring to see a doll on the shelves that I could see myself in. Representation, even in dolls, is really important!
Although I didn't necessarily want to be president as child, I did want to be a leader. Women are often discounted for being too "bossy" or "bitchy," but Presidential Barbie represented a figure who ignores all of that and forges ahead.
Presidential Barbie demonstrated that women of color CAN have the highest office in the land, and slay at the same time.
Although we each learned something different, we realized that Barbie in 2017 now represents women of different races, body shapes, and goals.
Thankfully, Barbie in 2017 doesn't mean the same thing it meant when it debuted in 1959. She comes in a range of skin tones, hair types, and body shapes — and there's still so far to go. Every child should see themselves as beautiful, not be reminded of all the ways they don't measure up.
Barbie will always be an icon, but now in a new way. Rather than encouraging young women to fit an unattainable ideal, hopefully Barbie continues to reflect the beautiful, diverse, and driven women who used to own them — after all, we may give them to our own daughters one day.