Tom Forsythe

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Tom Forsythe
Born Tom Forsythe
Nationality United States
Known for Artist
Notable work(s) "Food Chain Barbie", "Personal Illusions", "TV Watching", "Random Observations"

Tom Forsythe is an artist who lives and works in Utah. He is known for his photographic work of Barbie dolls, which caused some controversy resulting from a lawsuit brought against him by Mattel. The company lost the case when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the images were original artwork in 2004. [1]

Art Work[edit]


Tom is known for his famous “Barbie” portraits, portraying Barbie dolls in provocative yet suggestive positions usually without clothes. This line of art is called the “food chain Barbie”. If you have ever stumbled upon these pictures, usually each Barbie is juxtaposed with some sort of kitchen or cooking appliance.[2] There is a meaning behind each collage of the naked “Barbie’s”, it’s purpose is to not exploit the Barbie doll doing strange things but to show how he views the world and how seemingly mad it really is by showing it in his art. His work has been described as “unappetizing”.[1]

barbie logo.
Mattel's logo for the 'Barbie' doll series.

The main reason behind why Tom used the Barbie is because the doll is seen as an American icon as well as a feminist idea of how woman are supposed to act. Tom chose to use the dolls in his art because he wanted to attempt to put the sexist idea to rest. When Barbie came out, the doll was supposed to represent beauty and gave a false idea how woman were supposed to look and act.[2]


Tom’s photographs portraying the famous Barbie doll has had an influence on how we think along the lines of big name corporations as well as portraying the roles of women. The book (Will Fair Use Survive by Marjorie Heins) said “the benefits to the public in allowing such use- allowing artistic freedom and expression and criticism of a cultural icon- are great.” It also said “it serves the aims of the Copyright Act by encouraging the very creativity and criticism the act protects.”

According to Tom the Barbie represents this idea of “perfection” and how woman are supposed to look and act.[2] His art work was meant to lay rest to this so-called “beauty myth” and he did just that. According to Emily Borden and her article “The object of perfection: real or plastic” she talks about how toms photos gives woman a voice. Feminists celebrate that they won’t be seen as a house wife but more of whoever they want to be. She says “it shows woman they don’t have to be that perfect Barbie doll without any flaws but rather just accept themselves and who they are.”

Court Case[edit]

Tom Forsythe's art theme called “Barbie's power as a beauty myth” attracted legal attention. After displaying his work at art fairs in Utah and Missouri, Mattel Inc. took notice of his use of their copyrighted Barbie doll. Mattel Inc. launched the Barbie in 1959. Mattel was very unhappy that Forsythe had been using their product and showing it in a very revealing way. They decided to sue Forsythe in 1999 for copyright and trademark infringement. After several years of legal appeals, a federal judge instructed Mattel to pay Tom Forsythe legal fees of more than $1.8 million.[3] The 9th Circuit Court ruled that Forsythe's art did not violate 'fair use', which allows use of copyrighted material where the work will be provided to the public. Because of this, they ruled in Tom's favor that the Copyright Act applied in the case of Forsythe's work.[3]


Many artists as well as feminists were glad to hear that Forsythe had won the case. To them the case makes a statement, that copyright is 'destructive to the free exchange of ideas'.[3] To Tom, the case was a victory in the 'fight for free speech'. Tom felt that he was using a form of art to make a point to show us how political and social ideals played in our world today. Forsythe felt that the case taught us all a lesson about the US legal system.[3]

Forsythe felt that the case taught him a lesson about the US legal system. In his own words,

“From what I’ve learned in the course of defending my very basic free speech rights, this is a fairly standard cost of fighting a legal battle in federal court. It only confirms what I’ve always sensed, that the legal system is little more than a boxing ring for the rich with the common people not even invited to experience the proceedings on pay per view. We may be free to express ourselves, but if that expression involves offending a rapacious corporation, they’re equally free to sue; and unless we have the wherewithal to fight off high powered attorneys, that’s where our free speech ends.”[2]

External links[edit]

Tom Forsythe's Webpage

Current Work


  1. ^ a b Steiner, Christine. "'Lawsuit Barbie' Fails for Mattel". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Forsythe, Tom. "A Word From the Artist". Tom Forsythe. 
  3. ^ a b c d Werde, Bill. "Barbie's Manufacturer Is Ordered to Pay $1.8 Million in Legal Fees to Artist". The New York Times.