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Why Barbie Was a Rollercoaster of Emotions for Me

I saw Barbie a few weeks ago, and in case you haven’t heard, there’s more to this movie than meets the eye.

Before I saw Barbie, I didn’t know what to think. Several friends told me the movie is wildly funny and full of satire. Others were quick to comment on how the touching storyline offers a poignant commentary on the everyday pressure of being a woman. Some talked about the pointed send-up of the patriarchy. Either way, everyone is talking about Barbie.

These diverging explanations elevated my expectations. Although I still can’t pinpoint what, exactly, I had been anticipating.

So, I tried having no expectations. Still, I simply wasn’t prepared for the next two hours.

What’s Barbie all about?

Barbie is everything a movie should be. At once funny, relatable, emotional, and, most importantly, entertaining—checking every box, including surprising. Even though I knew the experience would be empowering, I wasn't prepared for its unapologetic honesty in a world awash in pink capitalism.

The movie begins with all Barbies living in harmony in Barbie Land. Each has a perfect career and lives in their own Dreamhouse. Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, doesn’t have a career but does her part by supporting the other Barbies—and occasionally paying attention to Ken, played by Ryan Gosling.

When Stereotypical Barbie, who I’ll call Barbie throughout, starts noticing some unusual emotional and physical changes (think thoughts of death, flat feet, and cellulite), she learns that traveling to the real world is the only way to “fix” herself.

As Barbie and Ken arrive in Los Angeles, Barbie astutely notes how different the real world feels while Ken is emboldened as he discovers an entirely new concept: patriarchy. The movie goes on to expertly navigate and explore a myriad of issues including identity, self-worth, mortality, misogyny, and feminism.

Pro-everyone, not anti-man

This is an admittedly simplified explanation of an intensely nuanced film. Believe me, there’s no substitution for the pleasure of spending two hours with Barbie, but this movie is worth a deeper dive.

What appeared to be a perfectly pink world morphs into the complete opposite within the first 60 minutes of storytelling. While Barbie is in the midst of an existential crisis in Los Angeles, Ken is creating a new world order in Barbie Land.

Toxic masculinity permeates Barbie Land in a way that, although exaggerated, is an alarming reflection of real life. In fact, much of the Kens’ behavior is reminiscent of the societal norms in the late 50s and early 60s—when Barbie first came to market.

Some critics have expressed the opinion that the film is anti-male. I don’t see it that way. Barbie Land was created at a time when women didn’t have equal rights. The space gives girls an escape from the constructs of real-life patriarchy to dream of doing what they want, their way.

This type of make-believe is significant because, if we’re totally honest, the real world has been a version of Kendom for millennia. Even though times have changed, Barbie Land isn’t the answer, either.

We shouldn’t strive to live in the original version of Barbie Land because our world shouldn’t be Kendom or Barbie Land. An ideal society makes room for everyone to claim equal space, and never at the expense of another gender.

America Ferrara’s character, Gloria, captures the challenge of striking this balance. In what proved to be one of the film’s most poignant moments, she delivers a monologue exploring the punishing double standards of being a woman. “You have to have money, but you can't ask for money because that's crass. You have to be a boss, but you can't be mean. You have to lead, but you can't squash other people's ideas.” #TRUTH

Despite these truths, Barbie Land will endure in the hearts and minds of women and girls forever, as it should. Barbie Land is a transformative place where girls have freely dreamt about their future possibilities for decades, where female astronauts, CEOs, and world leaders are commonplace.

Barbie Land isn't the goal. But it is a reminder of what we could be if only we aspired to reach them.

Weird Barbie, powerful perspective

The unsung hero of this movie is Weird Barbie—the one with the wacky haircut, marker on her face, and a comically mismatched outfit. Unlike the other Barbies, she’s imperfect, but she’s no imbecile.

Rather than a portrayal of a silly, anecdotal character, Weird Barbie plays a pivotal role in preventing Barbie Land from fully changing into Kendom. In the process, she helps reveal what or who Barbie is meant to be.

Unlike the other Barbies, Weird Barbie is very in tune with the real world. She seems to understand how it works and differs from Barbie Land in a way no other Barbie does. But why?

When you really think about it, Weird Barbie resembles reality more than anyone else in Barbie Land. She is grounded in her flaws, but those imperfections give her perspective… and power. When no one else knows how to fix the problem in Barbie Land, Weird Barbie figures it out with her uncanny knowledge of the outside.

We don’t have to look our best to be our best. Fitting into a societal mold or expectation is far less important than leaning into who we really are—because that’s where our inner strength lies.

Ironically, most of the Barbies, including Stereotypical Barbie, initially tried to avoid Weird Barbie. Her lack of perfection unsettles them. And yet, their unrealistic pursuit of perfection is their undoing, blinding them from the dangers of Kendom.

An emotional epilogue

As the movie comes to a close, the ghost of Ruth Handler takes Barbie by the hand to contemplate her future. She’s saved Barbie Land from the patriarchy, but she’s grown, perhaps too much, to fit into a Barbie box anymore.

Knowing this, Ruth tells her to close her eyes and feel. This is the moment Barbie made me cry.

What flashed before me was a beautiful montage of home videos showing mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends sharing experiences, celebrating milestones, and creating memories. I don’t know who they were, and I don’t have to, because this scene was the most beautiful, unexpected, and emotional moment of the movie for me.

The familiarity of these images filled me to the brim, reminding me of my relationship with my mom. Celebrating womanhood and the experiences that bind us are the fabric of the great quilt of life. Not every piece is perfect or symmetrical, but together, their beauty is undeniably moving and worth celebrating.

Ultimately, the movie has profound, complex messages I didn’t anticipate. Even though the Barbie brand itself is admittedly riddled with contradictions—promoting aspirational goals for women with an unrelentingly impossible body image—I will always love Barbie.

Near the movie's end, Ruth tells Barbie she’s been surprising her since she created her 64 years ago and still surprising her today. I feel the same way.

Barbie ended up being the summer movie escape I needed while teaching me something I didn’t even realize I needed to know.


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