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Trophy Wife Barbie: Redefining an Icon

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With almost half a million followers on Instagram  Trophy Wife Barbie is changing the way we think and talk about this iconic doll. The brainchild masterpiece of South African born Visual Artist, Annelies Hofmeyr, is far removed from the idyllic image of perfect beauty that has characterized Barbie for over half a century. Hofmeyr’s, perpetually menstruating, pimple popping, pot smoking, beer gulping, and unapologetic antler wearing Barbie is layered with meaning—the symbolic antlers represent the experience of being viewed as a hunting trophy because of one’s physical appearance, gender, sexuality and age.

She is a firm believer that art disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed; A powerful mindset that has allowed the artist to defy taboos and challenge the oppression of labels through the exploration of gender issues and the modern female identity.

TWB invites us to consider what might happen if we focus on the things we have in common, rather than fear the things that make us different. Precisely because of how much we share in common we approached Hofmeyr to collaborate on some fun visuals. We got the opportunity to chat with the artist and discuss her creative process, censorship and the role of toys in developing identity.

How was the idea of Trophy Wife Barbie born?

Trophy Wife Barbie started as a visual pun – I had mounted a Barbie head like a hunting trophy and started thinking about how women are seen. For the Instagram project, I wanted to highlight the limitations of labels and question what might happen if we focused more on what we have in common than what makes us different. Visually, this is done by giving a typical blonde Barbie antlers – a physical representation of a label imposed on her based on her appearance – and putting her in everyday situations to make her more relatable. 

How has your view on Barbie changed over the years?

Without the strong brand Mattel has built, I’d have no project. I’m immensely grateful that they’ve essentially handed me a blank canvas to project whatever I want onto. I’ve enjoyed playing with Barbie since I was a little girl and that enjoyment clearly hasn’t changed, only how I play with her has.
Trophy Wife by Neudies - How has your view on Barbie changed over the years?
Trophy Wife by Neudies - How has your view on Barbie changed over the years?
Trophy Wife by Neudies - How has your view on Barbie changed over the years?
Trophy Wife by Neudies - How has your view on Barbie changed over the years?

What roles do toys play in developing identity?

I think the main role of toys should always be to facilitate play. We learn through play. Expecting toys (or TV or social media) to provide the structure for the development of healthy self-image is not healthy or realistic. Identity is complex and nuanced. We learn about it in our family environment and the society we grow up in. I do, however, believe toys can offer the opportunity to facilitate interesting discussions. They have also long been used in various therapies.

Trophy Wife by Neudies - What roles do toys have in developing identity

How do you interpret Barbie’s lack of genitalia?

I would imagine marketing toys to children (and the parents supplying the cash) in the late 50s had different challenges to the present day. I think it is a reflection of what society was comfortable with at the time. Which is why I love the questions you’re asking with Neudies! I believe there is more space now to talk about things previously frowned upon.

What does your creative process look like?

I spend a lot of time thinking, reading, observing and having conversations. I like to spot patterns and comment on them. Sometimes the medium comes first and other times the concept. Few things give me more joy than making stuff with my hands and having interesting discussions. I believe this is a good way to get to know others and ourselves and to make sense of the world.
Trophy Wife by Neudies - What does your creative process look like

What value do you see in using humor when dealing with taboo topics?

I see tremendous value in being able to laugh at something – it means we’re able to look at it objectively, a healthy way to deal with anything.

There is a delicate line between being provoking and thought provoking. How do you strike the perfect balance?

For me the difference lies in being clear about who it’s for. Being provocative for the sake of attention but lacking any depth seems like an ego-driven activity to me. When you’re clear about the idea you want to spread, it’s generous to do it in a way that is thought-provoking because you’re giving your audience something to consider, and if you’re lucky, something to talk about with others.

You’ve had posts deleted and even your account was suspended. What is your take on the growth of censorship in social media?

When a parent says do as I say without there being room for discussion, a child quickly learns to hide the punishable activity. I think censorship has forced people to be more creative in how they express their ideas. To me, being shut down has always highlighted what topics still make people uncomfortable and therefore need to be talked about more.

Trophy Wife by Neudies - Censorship in social media

Do you auto censor yourself based on the potential repercussions of an idea?

The nature of triggers is that you never know what’s going to trigger who, so it’s a guessing game for me a lot of the time. Part of why I used a doll for this project is that it seemed a good way to circumvent censorship, but alas. I often highlight certain known taboo topics with self-censored images, eg. I sometimes pixelate Trophy Wife Barbie’s boobs because, you know, nipples corrupt.
Trophy Wife Barbie by Neudies
Trophy Wife Barbie by Neudies

What message does Trophy Wife Barbie have for the Neudies?

Keep doing what you’re doing! What a privilege to have your message in people’s houses, facilitating interesting discussions. I can’t wait to see what you get up to next!

Trophy Wife Barbie by Neudies

All images courtesy of  Trophy Wife Barbie

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