Written on

August 5, 2023

As a girl, I was a “Barbie Girl.” My best friend, Tina, loved her baby dolls and I loved my Barbies. When my mom and I finally packed them away, I had close to 40 different dolls – Barbies, Kens, Skippers and their friends. I had THE Dream House full of Mattel branded furniture, a HUGE RV, The Rocker’s Stage, the Corvette and a gazillion little shoes and tiny accessories.

In recent years, I hadn’t thought much about my Barbie days. Only the youngest of my three daughters has been remotely interested in the dolls. So when the marketing barrage for the motion picture began, I really could have cared less. I assumed that it would be a “woke” movie, pushing a “liberal” agenda and really just be all about big companies making big money. With all those assumptions crowding my mind, I decided that I didn’t want to see it and, if I did, it wouldn’t be until it hit a streaming service to which we are already subscribed.

Then, my oldest daughter, my most tomboy-like girl, who just turned 20, asked me to see it with her before she returned to her summer internship. In acknowledging that our mother/daughter “dates” are rare and with appreciation for the fleeting opportunity to spend some time with her, I agreed to go. We talked my “middle” daughter into joining us and, without regret, I took a break from classroom prep to spend a few hours in the theater.

As the movie unfolded before me on the silver screen, I was pleased that my assumptions were proven wrong. No, it isn’t a movie for little girls. I intentionally left my not-yet-ten year old at home. It was given a PG-13 rating for good reasons. But, when she is older I am sure her older sisters and I will enjoy sharing this grown-up movie together. There are definitely social viewpoints presented, but none that I feel can be exclusively labeled “left” or “right.” The themes are legitimate and definitely worth discussing in settings where people accountably listen, think and respond to the ideas produced.

I have heard/read various responses to the film. On Facebook, I have seen where many of my friends responded to various points of the movie with tears – not out of sadness, but from validation. For example, when America Ferrera delivers her character Gloria’s monologue, we felt truly seen by a movie industry and, let’s face it, a toy company that has pressured women into feeling “less than” because we can’t possibly live up to the all the stereotypical standards they seem to suggest.

Yes, the movie talks about patriarchy, but let’s look at what it says about patriarchy. It also head on addresses other gender related issues – how a woman is unfairly blamed for how she is treated or even assaulted, sexual harassment, and gender pay gaps. (I told you this wasn’t a kids’ movie!) This movie is a fantastic place to start some much needed discussions – with my daughters at home and in our society as a whole.

Below are three examples of themes from the Barbie movie that are worth the price of admission: (Spoiler Alert – you may want to watch the film before reading further!)

  1. With New Knowledge, You Can Never Go Back to the Way Things Were – At the end of the film, Barbie has gained a lot of new knowledge – things that she never knew she was ignorant about before, assumptions about her life – and life in general, that she grew to know were wrong. For the first time, she acknowledged that she now knew how Ken felt. She accepted that he should be free to find his own identity as much as she should be. The way the Kens were treated before, wasn’t right and the Barbies could NOT go back to the “good old days” anymore, because Barbie knew they weren’t “good” for everyone. I hear people say how bad things are now in America, and how they wish we could go back to a simpler time. When? When was it truly easier, better for ALL of us? The 50’s? What about the civil rights movement? Was it better then? When we all couldn’t even drink from the same water fountain? With the new knowledge and understanding of life before, we know we can’t – and we don’t want to go back to the way things once were.
  2. Change Happens Slowly ~ You Can’t Change Everything At Once – The movie does not end with the Barbies and Kens sharing everything equally. Ken isn’t sure who he is without the “and” in front of his name. Barbie’s future is purposefully left vague. But all of this is okay, and I believe was written this way intentionally. Real, lasting, needed, positive change does not happen overnight. Sometimes it takes years or decades or generations to become a reality that is taken for granted. The Kens’ leadership in Barbie Land is still limited, but the baby step that was given is still a step in the needed, right direction. Ken may not be able or wanting to “beach” anymore, but he has begun to seek a life a part from Barbie. Changing who/what we may have built our lives around doesn’t happen overnight. Barbie begins her life in the real world, not as a career woman, not in a relationship with a man, not with her whole life figured out – but, by going to a gynecologist to take care of herself as a real woman. These first steps, these small things are the beginnings of what needs to happen next. We can’t just magically arrive at our happily ever afters without the slow, small changes that make every big development happen.
  3. An Encounter With Our Creator Changes Everything – Rhea Perlman plays Ruth, the real-life creator of the Mattel toy, Barbie. Barbie first meets Ruth not knowing who Ruth is or of her importance. At the end of the movie, however, Barbie learns from Ruth herself of how she came to be and for the actual purpose she was created for. These encounters changed Barbie’s life. At times throughout the movie, Barbie questions her existence and wonders about what happens after death. Obviously, it is not a Christian film, but every story tells “The Story” and this one is no different. There are hints of redemption and definite, obvious themes of being a part of something bigger than oneself, wanting to make a difference and having a higher purpose. As a believer in Christ, I know that my daily encounters with my Creator change everything about my life, my identity, and my purpose.

Barbie was a truly great movie. It was nostalgic for me. It was funny for my daughters. It wasn’t too serious. It was downright silly at times. There is great music and impressively choreographed dance scenes. It made me think and proved me wrong. I can’t think of the last time another movie unexpectedly hit me quite like this one. I don’t know if it will win any or many awards, but I sure hope it does. It lives up to the hype and now I want a Barbie t-shirt. (I may need to go unpack my Barbies for a little reunion of sorts!)

Photo by Sandra Gabriel on Unsplash

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