What’s wrong with this picture?

// 4 May 2010

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Just when you thought that cis people’s crass fixation on trans people’s genitalia could go no further, along comes this article in Argentina’s Momento24 English, demonstrating conclusively that their prurience really knows no bounds:

Barbie changes sex

Image from Momento24 English

Andrea Cano and photographer Manuel Antonio Velandia, after 50 years of Barbie, were responsible for the operation, which ended with the change of sex on the popular doll.

Velandia told the media he “chose to these dolls because they are well known and because they are unrealistic women, that would have waists of 40 cm and breasts of a size of 110 cm.”

And he “found it curious that, as with most of the dolls, Barbies are sexless.”

Andrea Cano revealed that “she had since childhood the fantasy of having a doll that was a transsexual and Barbie gave her that chance.”

Thanks to them, and to Decide-T Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders of Alicante, the exhibition ‘Invisibles: Natures transgressive’ will be held.

Veladia confirms that “this exhibition is recommended for audiences of all ages as we are to put aside the issue of sexuality as a taboo and that children since early know that there is diversity in this area.”

I can understand Mr Velandia’s objection to the unrealistic representation of women that Barbie dolls perpetuate (including the fact that the dolls are anatomically incorrect) – it’s hyper-feminisation personified – but Ms Cano’s “fantasy” of having a doll of a transsexual woman suggests a large degree of objectification, not least because of its upholding of the gender binary.

To complete their bid for winners of today’s round of trans bingo, the thinking behind their dolls sensationalises surgery and defines our identities according to our genital topography – and, in his last quote, Mr Velandia also manages to conflate sexuality with gender identity.

But perhaps the most striking thing about these dolls is that they show how ignorant Mr Velandia and Ms Cano really are about trans bodies: surely a Barbie doll would “transition” to a trans man, not a trans woman?

If I was posting this on Twitter, I’d hashtag it #cisFAIL. Facepalm moment of the day, no question.

Comments From You

saranga // Posted 4 May 2010 at 9:41 pm

“chose these dolls because they are well known and because they are unrealistic women”

is he insinuating that trans women are unrealistic women? Or am I reading too much into it?

Helen G // Posted 4 May 2010 at 9:46 pm

saranga: Good question! I must admit that I read it as meaning that the dolls are an unrealistic representation of women, but now I think about it… ;)

Posie Rider // Posted 4 May 2010 at 11:44 pm

What genius! I’m pretty sure the text refers to Barbie being an idealised image of female beauty that ultimately undermines women, commoditising their incredible minds. Like Rokeby’s Venus, which came under the knife of the famous suffragette ‘Mary the Slasher’- a bit like making these dolls really.

Good for you! x

Louise // Posted 5 May 2010 at 9:51 am

I think some tone was lost in translation in the linked article. Andrea Cano is a trans woman and she describes in interviews how she intends this piece of work to be a commentary on her own exclusion from social “norms” as a child with a non-cis gender identity.

Cano’s collaborator on the project, Manuel Antonio Velandia, discusses in his blog that the sexual objectification of the Barbie dolls is a deliberate commentary on the objectification of trans women, and particularly on how many Latin American, African, and Asian trans women are unwilling sex workers.

There’s a lot more discussion here (in Spanish):


Helen G // Posted 5 May 2010 at 10:10 am

Thanks for the link, Louise. I’m afraid I still have my doubts, though.

Ms Cano’s intentions may be good, but her association of girls with dolls is unhelpful in that it perpetuates gender stereotyping. And Mr Velandia equating trans women – whatever their race – with being sex workers is problematic, to say the very least.

Louise // Posted 5 May 2010 at 5:29 pm

@ Helen G

I agree it’s not clear cut… but then I think we’re getting into definitions of art, and of what constitutes “good” / “bad” (or “valid” / “invalid”) artistic expression. And that’s a minefield.

As a personal expression of childhood wishes, it’s hard to argue with Cano’s choice of material – the fact that girls are stereotypically associated with dolls doesn’t negate her own experience of playing with dolls as a child.

But I think it’s easier to take issue with Velandia’s political statements – I’m not convinced the exhibition says much about the experiences of trans women in developing countries. But maybe other people do (?)

Hannah // Posted 5 May 2010 at 9:48 pm

Helen G, I’m not sure how you’re proposing art might be able to engage with stereotypes if it’s not allowed to represent them. There is a world of difference between unproblematically representing girls as dolls, and invoking the association between girls and dolls in popular consciousness so as to subversively comment on it. Thanks for drawing my attention to this though, Cano’s work is interesting. Personally, I’m pro art that produces laughter out of incongruity, at the expense of binary ideas of gender. I’ve been looking at comedy and resistance lately and it’s definitely the best tool we’ve got!

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