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  • Writer's pictureKaisah Abdul

“In the year of the Barbie movie?”

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Barbie is a doctor, an astronaut, and a president. She moulds young minds not only in classroom playsets but in real life, where thousands of young girls play with her every single day. She is and always will be an icon, a representation of women everywhere. She has accomplished all these things in her own name. Barbie doesn’t cry when she gets 59% on a test; she doesn’t have insecurities; and she certainly doesn’t cry over men. That's what “real” women do (myself included). Not Barbie.

Pretty in Pink

But the Barbie movie fundamentally changed how I looked at Barbie. I always looked at her as some sparkling ideal of a woman. It’s not like I compared myself to her, but I always did try and channel that positive, confident energy. When I was mentally cosplaying as Barbie, I felt like I could do and be anything, all while wearing my favourite colour, pink. This movie, however, introduces new sides of Barbie, ones that I never thought would have been approved by Mattel. Audiences around the world were both amazed and shocked by Weird Barbie (more on her later), Depression Barbie (wearing sweatpants, crying, watching re-runs of Pride and Prejudice… sounds like they really know their audience), and at the very end, Normal Barbie (but only because she proves to be profitable for Mattel).

In the Barbie movie, Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, wakes up in the picture-perfect Barbie Land. The opening Lizzo song literally sings, “When I wake up in my own pink world”. And life is indeed plastic and fantastic. For all of 15 minutes. As the movie progresses, Stereotypical Barbie questions death and worse, gets flat feet. The horror. The flat feet shock her and the other Barbies enough that she visits Weird Barbie, played by Kate McKinnon. This Barbie is the amalgamation of all the weird things that girls have done to their Barbies. Her hair is chopped off and spikes at weird angles, her face has been drawn on with markers, and her feet tumble in weird ways. (This Barbie specifically remembers treating her Barbies this way… Sorry…)

Image from Glamour UK

Eventually, Weird Barbie tells Robbie that every Barbie in Barbie Land is being played with by a Real Girl in the Real World. The actions and emotions that the girl is feeling directly translate to the Barbies own physical appearances and feelings. From then on, Stereotypical Barbie (and Ken, played by Ryan Gosling) transport themselves to the Real World to find the girl who has been playing with Barbie and to return Stereotypical Barbie to a life of everlasting joy and bliss.

In 114 minutes, we see Barbie running from the Mattel executives trying to place her in a literal box, and Ken discovering horses and patriarchy (which he brings to Barbie Land). We see Barbie fall into despair as she realises she can’t save Barbie Land from the patriarchal mess that Ken has brought about, and we get an amazing musical number from the Kens. Out of these 114 minutes, though, it was a rousing two-minute speech from Gloria from the Real World, played by America Ferrera, that simultaneously brought many to tears and drew as much flak online. To the criers, it was an ode to women everywhere, a recognition of the struggles of the world that women have to live in today. To the critics, it was a sorry attempt at teaching the very basics of feminism to a global audience that lacked the necessary depth.

Though both reactions to Fererra’s speech and the movie as a whole are understandable, I do have to say that I agree with the criers. To me, Barbie was never meant to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. Even though it seems like that’s a weight that most women carry, I never would have wanted my childhood best friend to go through that same pain. By the end of the movie, Barbie decides to be a Real Woman, accompanied by a trip to the gynaecologist for comedic relief. But even as she does become a Real Woman, it is simply not fair for the critics to blame Barbie for failing to capture the true experiences of women everywhere. How can we expect a movie about a literal doll to have the same weight as a gender studies module in university?

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

The Barbie movie and all its critics come at a time when girlhood is being celebrated like never before. On the popular social media platform TikTok, it has been the summer of “girl” trends—"hot girl walks”, “girl dinner”, “girl math,” and plenty of other microtrends with the word “girl” slapped on. Much like the Barbie movie, the most recent one, “girl math” has drawn as much disapproval as it has love online. Simply put, “girl math” is the combination of three economic principles: cost-per-wear, sunk cost, and prospective cost. For example, if a pair of headphones is on sale for $100, if I wear them 100 times, they only cost $1 per wear. If the original price was $150, I would have also saved $50 from it being on sale. If I end up returning it, the next $100 I spend is free. “Girl math” has been seen as “a send-up of the patriarchal stereotype that women don't understand how money works or can't be trusted with it.” Most women know that, yes, this isn’t the right way to think about money. But it’s fun and actually plays to very real economic principles.

The rise of “girl” trends is not a new idea. Women online are increasingly repackaging the idea of womanhood. The word “woman” has traditionally been attached to ideals of being someone's daughter, wife, or mother. Being a “girl” is free of all these heavy connotations. Women can simply choose to be themselves, their identity free from being attached to their relationship to anyone else— especially not to a man. With the Barbie movie, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, and Olivia Rodrigo’s new GUTS album, it has been the ultimate summer for women to freely express and live in their girlhood and feminity. Much like Gloria in the Barbie movie, women on TikTok are unabashedly playing with their Barbies—old and new—and embracing their newfound confidence in a world that has not always treated them as equal.

Speak Now

This confidence has also spurred itself in other ways. This article’s namesake comes from TikToker @mad_mitch, who has taken to asking men “In the year of the Barbie movie?” whenever she feels wronged. Though she is known for coming up with multiple catchphrases, it is this one that has seemed to resonate with most of her followers. Again, cynics frame these “girl trends” as “a never-ending merry-go-round of stereotypes and tropes for women to be siloed into and simplified down to.” But in the year of the Barbie movie, are we really about to shame women for enjoying the movie just because it didn’t have much depth? In the year of the Barbie movie, are we really going to say that women mindlessly follow trends for trend sake? Moving back to the Barbie discourse, in a world where women already need to work twice as hard to prove their worth, should we really want a literal doll to have to do the same? In the words of Fererra, “I'm just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don't even know”.

Personally, if it wasn’t already obvious, I loved the Barbie movie. Proving that Barbie didn’t need to be perfect to be worthy was something I already knew, but I guess seeing it on the big screen really drove home the message. All in all, I appreciated the views that Greta Gerwing (the director) and her team put forth, and I thought that despite its faults, it was a bold, stunning movie. This has definitely furthered my obsession with Barbie, and if any man ever inconveniences me in the future, you will catch me declaring, “In the year of the Barbie movie?”

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