This Barbie can Bang! Barbie Girl in a Boxing World

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This Barbie can Bang!: Barbie Girl in a Boxing World

Self-proclaimed ‘pioneer of femininity’, Australian IBF world champion boxer Ebanie Bridges is fighting back against myopic perspectives on women in boxing that have haunted the sport since its earliest iteration. Former bodybuilder, ring card girl, and Math teacher, Bridges is (re)defining what it means to be a professional female boxer in the West – and she is using Barbie to do it. Mattel launched their first boxing Barbie in 2018 in the form of British Olympian Nicola Adams. The Adams ‘Shero’ Barbie Doll, which launched as part of the role models collection on International Women’s Day 2018, celebrated ‘Nicola’s outstanding contributions to boxing’ (BBC, 2018). 2018 Boxing Barbie exemplifies a key moment in women’s boxing, wherein the labour and successes of female boxers was – for the first time – taken seriously in mainstream culture. Adams, alongside other Olympic boxers such as Katie Taylor (Ireland), Mary Kom (India), Claressa Shields (USA) and Natasha Jonas (UK), were launched into popular consciousness via the wave of empowerment and trailblazing rhetoric used by mainstream media outlets to narrate the individual and collective contributions female athletes made to the London 2012 Olympics. During this time attitudes towards women in boxing began to shift dramatically; Gold medallists Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields and Nicola Adams were recognised as ‘pioneers’ of the sport – a title that followed each of them into their respective careers in professional boxing.
The ‘trailblazer trend’ in women’s boxing, I argue, provides a template for marketing female boxers to what we are led to believe is an otherwise resistant audience. Whilst this trend acknowledges the historical achievements of Olympic boxers who turned over to the professional side of the sport, it also undermines activist contributions made by female boxers elsewhere. Female boxers are frequently erased from popular culture due to the challenges their labour and their bodies pose to regulatory patriarchal practices that shape institutions and cultures. The trailblazing Olympic boxer pushes back against such constraints, but the light-touch media attention paid to this work effectively aligns ‘trailblazing’ in women’s boxing with the status quo – highlighting how female boxers perform and embody the ‘proper’ (read: masculinised) traditions of the male-dominated sport. As the new boxing Barbie, though, Bridges’ performances of femininity, both in the sport and on her social media platforms, draws attention to how certain types of femininity have transgressive (activist) potential in boxing. Ebanie Bridges fans celebrate her overt ownership of her femininity and sexuality in a sport that otherwise demands uniformity of female participants. But boxing purists accuse Bridges of relying too heavily on marketing ‘gimmicks’ that boxing has purportedly worked hard to rid itself of. Consequently, Bridges’ hyperfeminine and sexualised ‘brand’ of women’s boxing is considered damaging to other female athletes. This paper explores the possibilities and limitations of Barbie in professional boxing, drawing on Sianne Ngai’s (2022) concept of the gimmick. Contra reductive perspectives that see Bridges’ Barbie aesthetic as little more than a cheap trick used to grow her own market appeal, I argue that through Ngai’s understanding of a gimmick working ‘too little’ and ‘too hard’ simultaneously, Bridges’ boxing Barbie enables us to better understand female boxers’ complex relationships to labour, time, and ghostly spectres that undermine their contributions to the sport.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Sept 2023
EventTheatre and Performance Research Association: TaPRA2023 - Leeds University , Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 30 Aug 20231 Sept 2023


ConferenceTheatre and Performance Research Association: TaPRA2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Boxing
  • Gender
  • Barbie
  • Critical Hunks and Babes


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