Barbie’s Poverty Porn Trip to Africa on Instagram

Most twenty-somethings have that one perpetually annoying, positive friend on their Instagram feed. The one that can’t wait to tell us how #blessed they are for their strategically placed latte, lipstick and passport between posting clichéd positivity quotes in gold glitter and swirly fonts.

She often has an admirable talent for preaching gratitude and helping others, while simultaneously being completely oblivious to her own privilege. If you don’t know her, then you probably are her.

At a certain point, said ‘friend’ will usually reach the pinnacle of their blessedness and decide to share their gift to the world, starting with any of the interchangeable, third-world communities full of brown people and poverty.

The country of Africa is often a good starting point. She’ll embark on her adventure to the ‘Motherland’ full of trepidation (Terrorists? Lions? No Starbucks?!). But she knows that this is her duty and there are orphans with those cute little pot bellies to save, so she puts all that aside and bravely goes on. She’s often in awe of her own selflessness.

Never has this character been more accurately reflected than in the hilarious Instagram parody account, Barbie Savior.

This genius account follows a self-indulgent Barbie as she ignorantly traipses through Africa, heels and handbags in tow, taking selfies with strangers and exploiting the local community along the way. All under the guise of ‘helping’.

The account is the brainchild of two ex-volunteers from America who confessed to once having a similar ‘White Saviour’ attitude to their aid work in Africa before growing and seeing the error of the ways. I got in touch with the owners of the account who were happy to have a chat with me, but wished to remain anonymous because “Barbie Savior can say things we simply can’t”.

What began as an ongoing in-joke between friends grew into a cause they were passionate about, which they use their creative flair to highlight.

The account mercilessly mocks what is described as the White Saviour Complex, which the owners describe as “anyone whom elevates themselves above those less fortunate and perceives themselves personally as the solution to the less fortunate’s problems”.

After launching the account just 5 weeks ago, Barbie Savior already has well over 5000 followers (which she commemorated by likening herself to Jesus feeding the 5000). The comments on posts from fans are largely (and deservedly) positive. 

But the creators never anticipated the success of the account, how it would resonate with so many people, or that they’d be “playing” with Barbies at an adult age.

“A lot of people have commented, ‘I don’t know whether to laugh…or cry.’ We want you to laugh, but we also want a dialogue to form around how we can all do better in tackling issues surrounding the White Saviour Complex. We think it’s likely many people have already realised how ridiculous it is, but in our culture it’s not acceptable to criticise the saint. You don’t question white privilege”.

Barbie Savior does a brilliant job of encapsulating the attitudes of so many misguided young people from the West who embark on these types of voluntourism trips. Often guided by Instagram likes and admiration, the owners explain how Barbie Savior captures the sentiment of the ‘wildly self-centered person veiled as the self-sacrificing saint’ so well.

And although the wit of the page will literally leave you laughing out loud, the owners remind me that they’re dealing with a very serious and sensitive issue. “As a Westerner coming into a developing country, whether to live or visit, you must be aware of the privilege your skin colour affords you. Just because someone is allowing you to do something does not make it morally or ethically right.”


The centre of the account’s genius is displayed through its witty captions, which although often outrageous, feel as though we’ve seen them attached to a real account before. Barbie Savior could be and in some ways is, a real person.

In fact, Barbie Savior is based on a combination of dozens of white saviours that the owners have came across in real life. Since launching the account, they’ve also been sent further examples of real Barbie Saviors, which they now incorporate into Barbie’s dramatic storylines. 

“Who hasn’t seen the glamour shot of the 18-year-old, attempting to look maternal, holding a destitute village child that you know she met literally two seconds ago before snapping the photo and posting it on social media?”

Barbie was chosen as the focal point of the account because “It’s easy to brush aside bad behaviour when it’s your best friend or brother, because you know they have “good intentions.” With Barbie, you are able to focus in on the purity of the action and its inappropriateness and think to yourself, “Oh wow. Yeah, this is not okay..” Of course, the hashtags help drive home our point. We would sum up Barbie Savior as hilariously appalling, #offensifabulous”.

The brains behind Barbie Savior point out that the White Saviour conversation is one that was around long before Barbie Savior, but describe the Instagram account as “our own little artistic way of expressing ourselves on the topic”.  

In between the chuckles, Barbie Saviour seems to be reaching the general public far more effectively than any of the many ranty articles on White Saviour Complex or Voluntourism, which surely can only be a good thing. 

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