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Opinion: Life in Plastic isn’t Always Fantastic

(Editors Note: The following contains spoilers for Barbie)

Armed with a bag of popcorn bigger than my head, I entered the Barbie movie expecting all the glitz and glamour of the story behind the world’s most famous fashion doll. But the film turned me into a sobbing mess. With the fear of sounding hyperbolic, I emerged a different woman; deeply moved, heard and inspired.

I’d seen Oppenheimer two days prior and was expecting Barbie to be a palate cleanser, but then I remembered it was directed by Greta Gerwig, who I think is arguably the queen of all coming-of-age movies. Little Women and Lady Bird changed my brain chemistry, and I’ll forever be in awe of female filmmakers who refuse to shy away from difficult topics. This is challenging enough as it is, but throwing Barbie into the mix, with all her past and present controversies, feels like a bold move. A part of me, which I think was my younger self who turned to Barbie for escapism, wanted Barbie Land to remain perfect, untouched by the damning hand of the patriarchy and the downfalls of the real world. Barbie is a woman; perhaps those struggles come with the territory. That’s not to say we can’t rewrite this, even if we’re pitted against one another like Barbies and Bratz dolls.

Barbie had an existential crisis. She wasn’t sure what her place in the world was, or what she was made for. And while she’s only twelve inches of plastic, I related to her. Girls are pushed in so many different directions: fit in with the crowd but stand out, be kind but not so kind that it comes off as flirty and if it does, that’s your fault. I could go on, but the film’s real-world character Gloria’s monologue on this very matter sums up the unfair expectations, often laced with contradictions, that are placed upon women. She hit the nail on the head. It was at this point I was considering making a tally of how many times I cried, but I didn’t even feel bad or embarrassed. My tears were more than warranted; it was as if my entire childhood came flooding out from my eyes, carried on a current of tears.

The movie weaponized humour to tackle issues like toxic, competitive masculinity in a hilarious beachfront battle and then brainwashing Barbies to show how the patriarchy can be a hive mind for both men and women. Ken gets tired of being ‘just Ken’ and goes on a power trip after witnessing the real world where he sees the vast majority of men in charge. He’s sick of being an accessory that only exists for his female counterpart. Switch the roles, and you’re close to being in our world.

Just like how Barbie is technically just a doll, an idea, I’m just a young woman trying to navigate a world that oftentimes wants me to shrink, whether that be my physical frame or my intelligence to stroke a man’s ego. The film touched on how people like to point the finger at Barbie for making girls hate themselves when in reality, it’s the ideals the patriarchy created that do that. Barbie is merely the scapegoat.

I went home and dug all my Barbies out, marvelling at their beauty. One was a doctor, another a rockstar, and one was a babysitter. From her debut in 1959, I honestly believe Barbie has shown girls they can be whatever they want. She might’ve been a nurse while Ken was a doctor in the sixties, but she was always a career girl at heart. It’s hard enough being a girl, the odds stacked against you - but none of it is this doll’s fault.

I’ll leave you with a song recommendation. Billie Eilish wrote a song for the Barbie movie titled ‘What Was I Made For?’. I hope that one day, every girl knows she was made for whatever she aspires to be - and more.

(Photo: Jen Ramm)


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