Dolls, Dames and Scholarship

THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION features an article on an instructional project by a Hamilton College sophomore. She put some minimal geometry to work to create a life-sized Barbie scaled to the original. The result is a sculpted tutorial intended to let us know that female eating disorders have little to do with food. Just in case we did not already know.



Still, two things are worth noting. First, the over-sized, over-endowed Barbie is better suited to a Whitney Biennial than an institution of higher play learning. Can’t you just see this as an installation? Complete with a press release touting the social dimension of contemporary artistic practice and its application toward the empowerment of women?
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And, as night follows day, there would be a few words noting the interplay between mathematics and art.

The student who initiated this exercise, Galia Slayen, created the doll in high school. (No surprise there.) That she is still getting mileage out of a predictable high school project is no compliment to Hamilton.
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This comment from a Chronicle reader is to the point:

Hope they flunked her on this project. A simple PhotoShop comparison of a real woman next to a Barbie shows that the proportions, while off, are not nearly as exaggerated as the model they built. So as a math project the results are horrible. And since this debate has been raging in the news media since Mattel redesigned the doll in 1997, they should be docked a grade for sheer unoriginal and non-critical thinking.

But in the end, the most telling thing is not necessarily the prank scholarship or the screwball sculpture itself. It is the wording of the headline: “An Eating-Disorder Survivor Uses Barbie for Advocacy.” Has every muddle or irregularity in life become a catastrophe that warrants sympathy—or congratulation—for having weathered it? I am seriously considering creating an installation calling attention to the predicament of Athlete’s Foot survivors. Have any of you persevered through crotch rot, ring-worm, or poison ivy?  Has anyone emerged victorious from crooked denture or your grandpa’s pipe smoke? If so please email and tell me. There is always something else lurking in the dark that needs to have the light of art shined upon it. Always more consciousness in need of raising. More awareness to provoke. More amour propre to spread around under the guise of heightened understanding.


© 2011 Maureen Mullarkey


  1. Maureen, an excerpt of the estimable Joseph Epstein on a kind of performance art at Northwestern University:

    “Northwestern University, the school at which I taught for 30 years, has been visited by a delicious little scandal. A tenured professor, teaching a heavily attended undergraduate course on human sexuality, decided to bring in a woman, who, with the aid of what was euphemistically called “a sex toy” (uneuphemistically, it appears to have been an electric dildo), attempted to achieve a climax in the presence of the students. The professor alerted his students about this extraordinary show-and-tell session, and made clear that attendance was voluntary. The standard account has it that 120 or so of the 622 students enrolled in the course showed up. Questions about what they had witnessed, the professor punctiliously noted, would not be on the exam.”

    Well worth reading in full.

  2. For a sec, I wasn’t sure if the Weekly Standard piece applied here. But halfway through the piece I got it–authority. There isn’t much of it left in the humanities and the social sciences. Gone from the faculty; gone from the subjects under scrutiny. Gone even from the approach to subjects that are serious in themselves. It’s all a performance.

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