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  • Writer's pictureThe Belvedere Journal

Why Barbie Is An Amazing Representation Of Feminism & Womanhood In The Modern Day

by Aysha P

The movie finally gave an accurate light on everyday life and attempted to teach the idea that everyone is equal, fixing the ideologies and the self beliefs of what Barbie really stands for.

Every kid has a memory of playing with Barbie dolls, right? Whether you had a few different Barbies and played with them all together, or you and your friends each had a favourite Barbie that you all played with together. You may have had the Barbie Dream House and a character playset. You also could have been like me and grew up watching all the old animated films. Either way, the majority of people can say they have a good memory of barbie. Barbie was originally created in 1959 by Ruth Handler and manufactured by the company Mattel. Handler named the doll after her daughter Barbra and for the last 64 years the ‘Barbie doll’ has been a big staple piece in young girls' lives. Barbie has been subject to debate and discussion for several years on the pros and cons of her symbolism for young girls and women all over the world.

The concept of Barbie was to try and encourage girls to practically follow their dreams and let them know that they were capable of doing whatever they wanted. As Barbie she had multiple dolls who had many different careers. It was to demolish the astigmatism of how women should lead their lives pre war time. However as we moved into a modern society, young girls and women's views were evolving so, as a company Mattel decided to make Barbie more up to date, she evolved over the years to represent a more diverse and inclusive image of women. She has taken on many forms, embracing different ethnicities, body types, abilities and challenging the traditional beauty standards. However there is still a number of people all around the world who still criticise Barbie. But as society evolved so did Barbie, sending a strong message that feminism is about celebrating all women everywhere. She had numerous careers over the years such as; a scientist, an astronaut, a chef, a doctor, a vet, a microbiologist, a boxer, a flight attendant and an actress. The list goes on. This was to emphasise the importance of education and ambition for women. And it tried to send a positive message to young girls that they can aspire to be whoever or whatever they want. All of this was another attempt to change the minds of those who still had a negative outlook on the Barbie brand.

However, over the years, the concept of Barbie was to help change the minds of the world that you can be anything. People still managed to find several faults with the Barbie brand. It started out as quite a ‘problematic’ toy as it was one of the first children's toys to have breasts and boasted unrealistic proportions with her tiny waist and long legs, which was sending out the wrong message to young girls, damaging their self views and deflating their confidence. It was found to not be quite inclusive to begin with as it wasn't very diverse. It originally did follow the gender norms and stereotypical representations of women. So, what the filmmakers did in the 2023 Barbie film was address the situation by having the teenage girl Sorcha list everything that was wrong with Barbie, like how she actually made women feel really bad and brought to light the fact that one of the only things men and women agree on was the misogyny (hate for women). As she is telling this to Barbie herself, Barbie begins to get really emotional as she realises that their aim was not as effective as they originally planned for it to be.

Let's now dive deeper into the 2023 Barbie film. When the film was released earlier this year it faced a lot of criticism with the equal amount of positive reviews, however it was always going to be likely to have a controversial outcome being Barbie. The aim of the film was to reimagine Barbie in a new light to empower girls and promote feminine ideologies. In this film, Margot Robbie's Barbie embarks on a thrilling adventure that not only highlights her intelligence but her resilience and resourcefulness when put in a difficult situation while at the same time, challenging gender norms and stereotypes. One way that the new film definitely challenged the original Barbie doll, was the range of actors they had played both Barbies and Kens, these were to represent the new brand that they have slowly started building by representing so many other body types, ethnicities, etc. To be Barbie was to be confident, happy and feel secure in yourself, therefore the film finally gave the audience a freedom to feel the positivity of the brand. They also had a range of jobs for all these barbies and it didn't differ on the way they looked. The plot to the film consisted of ‘Barbie’ finding out about a glitch that has almost merged both the ‘real world’ and ‘Barbie land’ into one. So she ventures out to fix all the problems over there to be able to restore the perfect life. This alludes to the ideology that Barbie was meant to enforce this ‘perfect world’ to everyday life. However, obviously it is seen to the audience to be ironic as we are actually aware of real life. The film was strongly woman focused and told their problems through a narrative. The problems that have been happening to her consist of cellulite and flat feet, creating innuendos for those who know the pain. She jokes about how if her feet were naturally flat, high heels would never be a choice she would make, as we all know Barbies have curved feet suitable for heels, however obviously that is not the real case. There was a focus on the ‘superficial’ perfect women but Barbie starts to endure the real world of beauty standard and begins to feel empathy for the idea of ‘beauty is pain’. Therefore the joke about flat feet is seen as humorous to us as the audience as that is a natural, living problem for literally everyone. I mean we all know the pain of wearing heels all day, right?

When she arrives in the ‘real world’, she is expecting to be greeted with all this love and appreciation but as we know, she quickly learns what people view as the true meaning of barbie. Both Barbie and Ryan Gosling’s Ken, learn how the world really works and how men are still predominantly in charge, creating a patriarchal society. This then sparks in Ken's mind that he should now also rule ‘Barbie Land’ solely because ‘he's a man’. Completely changing the whole Barbie brand but ultimately reveals the reality of what people thought Barbie was doing, that was not really trying to help. However, that originally was the whole idea. It just over time lost its meaning because of all the different ways people individually viewed it.

Also while in the ‘real world,’ Barbie visits Mattel headquarters and as she arrives she is quite energetic and perky as she hopes to meet the ‘CEFO,’ but is quickly let down when she learns that Mattel is solely run by big headed, arrogant men as if they know all of what Barbie is meant to stand for. This just adds to the long list of how reality is quite literally the complete opposite of Ruth Handler's initial plan and idea.

Now although it all went against the basic idea of how Barbie is meant to be perceived, it shined a light on the high number of how many people actually see it. It spoke about how ‘Barbie’ wasn't always inclusive and how it just made women feel almost worse because it wasn't possible for women to be just anything.

As the film comes closer to the end and the characters are trying to restore the real meaning of ‘Barbie’. America Ferrera's character, Gloria, delivers a monologue. It talks much about how women are truly overlooked in society, how they aren't meant to look and act a certain way and never complain. The movie finally gave an accurate light on everyday life and attempted to teach the idea that everyone is equal, fixing the ideologies and the self beliefs of what Barbie really stands for. As we know originally Barbie was a white, blonde, thin female with a tiny waist, long legs and big breasts which set an unhealthy body stereotype because people thought if they didn't look like they then they weren't really worth anything. It addressed the criticism of the brand and made an attempt to rearrange the course of the ideology of Barbie as a whole, because it pinpointed and highlighted all the numerous ideas and expectations women had to follow like a set of rules.

At the end of the film when peace has been restored in ‘Barbie land’, Ruth Handler, played by Rhea Perlman, tells the audience how Barbie was never meant to have an end; she was always just meant to be barbie. However, Margot Robbie’s character decides that she wants to become human and truly feel the reality of life.This symbolises the idea of inspiration that girls can be everything. This was symbolised through the process of Barbie becoming human. It then goes into a montage of real women and girls on video tapes enjoying themselves in everyday situations while Billie Eilish's ‘What Was I Made For?’ begins to play making it quite an emotional scene. This scene then sparked a trend on TikTok to use this song while playing their own memories and pictures in a montage-like style to represent the idea of womanhood. It also sparked so much emotion and made women all over the world appreciate each other and the women in their families so much more.

In conclusion, the idea of Barbie has come a long way from her early days and now stands as a symbol for modern feminism. Through her evolution, diverse representation, career aspirations and the empowering and emotional 2023 Barbie movie, she encourages girls to go after their dreams, challenge stereotypes and be proud of their own uniqueness. Barbie is not just a doll; she represents a movement towards a more equal and inclusive world for all.


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