“Being female is very political. So [discussing] anything related to being female is inevitably political,” explains Annelies Hofmeyr, the South African-born, Australian-based conceptual artist behind one of the most fascinating icons on Instagram: Trophy Wife Barbie.
The meteoric rise of Trophy Wife Barbie comes after nearly sixty years of Barbie being the ceaselessly youthful, smiling canvas for little girls — and many boys — to craft their imaginary worlds. Today, Trophy Wife Barbie is showing the world a side that she’s never revealed before: herself.
Hofmeyr’s perpetually menstruating, weed smoking, beer guzzling, and 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—and it has made her one of the most exciting personalities to follow on social media, often rivalling those of the human variety. It’s not unusual to see smitten, and shocked, fans leaving comments such as, “WTF!” as Trophy Wife shares images of her melted suntanned bosom, yoga postures on gigantic maxi pads, and her dynamic social circle that includes eclectic antler wearing friends: black, Asian, Muslim, disabled and Transgender, not to mention her vegan, lesbian, tattoo artist bestie, Lee, who has her own account.
Hofmeyr’s pairing of the most recognizable doll in the world with Instagram’s visual medium has allowed the artist to defy taboos and challenge the oppression of labels. To call her work masterful is an understatement: from the real world situations Hofmeyr places Trophy Wife Barbie in, to the artist’s precise placement of its logo in every image, Trophy Wife Barbie’s world is one of the most visually rich around.
We spoke to Hofmeyr about striking a balance between provocative and thought-provoking images, celebrity fans such as Miley Cyrus and Rose McGowan, and how Trophy Wife Barbie is not just about challenging identity and gender but also fostering empathy.
Did you play with Barbies as a child?
I did! I had two blonde Barbies, and eventually added a Ken to my collection. What I remember enjoying most about playing with my Barbies was making them little outfits and the constant outfit changes. It seems not too much has changed.
How much time occurred between your idea for Trophy Wife Barbie and the first image being created and posted?
The project started as a wall-mounted Barbie head with twigs as antlers back in 2012. I had a thrift store Barbie and had found a piece of wood in the shape of a trophy mount and my brain made a connection of some kind. It wasn’t until late 2015 that I decided to provide insight into one Trophy Wife Barbie’s life.
The first image of Trophy Wife Barbie shows her celebrating her divorce with the bloody head of Ken Carson in her arms. What are the kinds of responses you get from fans, especially towards some of the more provocative images?
One of the benefits of using Barbie imagery is being able to circumvent censorship and talk about more challenging topics, including feelings that are hard to visualize in other ways. I find it interesting what people consider provocative in this day and age, but I would say the vast majority of my followers are very encouraging and get the message.
You’re great at creating and setting Trophy Wife Barbie in real life, grown woman situations, while somehow maintaining a whimsical innocence to her. Is that intentional? Or a by-product of keeping Barbie looking like Barbie (e.g. always smiling with bright eyes)?
Barbie is such a household name and most people have some sort of connection with her. What I try to do is take Barbie, essentially a blank canvas, and project grownup issues onto her, making her more relatable to a different audience. Once you relate to someone or something, it’s much harder to hate them and dolls are a non-threatening way of getting that message across.
How do you balance between provocative and thought-provoking without exploiting or fetishizing the Barbie image? Or is that even a concern?
I think provoking for the purpose of shocking, with no real substance, results in a disconnect with your audience. I’m more interested in inviting participation, and it’s helpful to have something to relate to in an image. Staying on message and portraying Trophy Wife Barbie as more self-aware and self-actualizing is what leads to the interesting discussions.
Has Mattel ever reached out to you about the use of Barbie’s likeness?
I believe the Trophy Wife Barbie project compliments Mattel’s message and reaches an audience that they’re not currently marketing to. It would be interesting to know what they think of my interpretation of their You Can Be Anything campaign.
Do you work with real-life, physical Barbies or is it all created in Instagram?
I am currently working towards an exhibition of mounted Trophy Wife Barbie heads based on the original concept I played with many moons ago. There are some interesting themes to explore when isolating specific parts of the body.
“Shit just got real” is her tagline. Why?
It’s the best phrase to describe what the page is about. Part of being self-actualizing is the requirement of honesty with yourself and others, and Trophy Wife Barbie is definitely not scared of being either.
It feels like you showcase Barbie behind the scenes. Like she is a model and this Instagram account lets us see her world beyond her job. Is that one of the goals?
One of my main goals with the account is to highlight the limitations of labels and one of the ways I do that is to create empathy for the characters. To have empathy, you need an insight into what someone might be going through and seeing her and her friends in everyday situations help bring that message home.
A middle finger is just a middle finger until you put a cause to it.
She loves giving the middle finger, but it feels nuanced and empowering. What does that gesture represent for her, in her world?
A middle finger is just a middle finger until you put a cause to it. Trophy Wife Barbie chooses her causes carefully and it’s often in support of a friend’s cause. She doesn’t hate people but she hates outdated systems and unfair situations.
Amy Schumer was supposed to play rogue Barbie in a live-action film, and I thought that would be so fitting considering Trophy Wife Barbie, which I wouldn’t be surprised if she was fan of. Do you think TWB is having a bigger influence than she’s currently getting credit for?
I would definitely have watched that movie!
Of course I’d love to think TWB is having an effect on young women and getting them to think about their identity and role in society. Ultimately, I created the character to get people considering different perspectives and putting themselves in other people’s shoes. Questioning how you think about yourself and other people is the first step in changing limiting thought patterns.
Do you have any celeb followers?
Miley Cyrus was my first celebrity supporter and has been around for the ride since I had about 2K followers. I’ve interacted with a few of my other famous followers including Paris Hilton, Rose McGowan and Marion Cotillard. I admire them for using them platform to talk about issues important to them and value that they’re interested in mine.
I love Lee Vegan — Trophy Wife Barbie’s best friend — who happens to be a vegan, lesbian and tattoo artist. Will you be taking us deeper into her world as well?
I keep exploring different things with the account and a separate account for Trophy Wife Barbie’s BFF was one of those. Who knows what she might get up to?
If Trophy Wife Barbie was arrested, what would be the crime she’s committed, besides murdering Ken, which she seems to have gotten away with?
Definitely weed-smoking and possession in a state where it’s still illegal.
You’ve brought Barbie into the 21st century for childhood fans like myself, and even Barbie haters. How do you think Trophy Wife Barbie has changed the way we think about Barbie?
My hope is that Trophy Wife Barbie fans are motivated to think for themselves, and are interested in considering different perspectives. I specifically chose to use a blonde white Barbie to highlight the limitations of stereotyping – Barbie is held as the standard for beauty and desirability but by showing her as an activist, feminist and friend, I hope to show that nobody is just one thing.