Pondering Barbie

I was a doll-playing girl but never had a Barbie. My mom abhorred the idea of us playing with a grown woman, fearing we’d grow up too fast. I think it was especially a woman like that that she objected to. As a non-make-up-wearer, my mom rejected any artificial behavior or too much self-aggrandizement, leftovers from her upbringing in a missionary family, though she felt like she rejected it on the whole. My sister and I played with Betsy McCall dolls, which look like little girls. Skippers, basically. And we made up our accessories.

I attended the Barbie Movie this past weekend. It’s only being shown four times at our small local theater. I love how rural areas have limited access to things so you appreciate them. The theater filled to capacity. I saw six other teachers from my school there. The audience was alive, having a great time. A community happening.

I had to really ponder this movie. Watch out for spoilers from here on. BarblieLand is a place where the dolls act out what their makers envisioned for them. For that reason, the Barbies have the houses. Children are sold Barbie houses and cars, not Ken houses and dolls. That’s because girls are playing with them.

Ken is fully defined by Barbie’s love. That’s the male corporate vision (all the higher-ups are male), that she’s in love with him. How do people come away saying the film is about man-hating? It’s merely a logical extrapolation of what’s been designed and marketed.

I liked the girl’s critique of society; not so much her mom’s diatribe on what’s troubling women today. It kind of missed all the salient points.

The ending left me dissatisfied. One person said maybe if she had changed into a Ken, it would have been more interesting. Anyone have other ideas for endings? I was also a little disappointed with Weird Barbie. I loved the idea of her, that she resulted from her “kid” (the one who plays with her) having chopped her hair, painted on her, and so on. She was one of my favorite characters; I loved that there could be a weird place in BarbieLand. It could have gone farther.

The Plastic Feminism of Barbie has some great points. But I disagree with some. The critique belittles Barbie telling the old woman at the bus stop that she’s beautiful, indicating that it’s a token nod toward compassion. I actually found that to be at the heart of the movie: that we need to see all the emotions mirrored around us, depression, dark thoughts of death, aging. The fact that someone drawing a Barbie with those real emotions (it has to happen within the walls of Mattel, I think – that’s the magic) is the first step toward Barbie’s actualization makes a great point. Ken follows in his inimitable way, going through his macho phase. How does that relate to the board of directors getting freed from … what are they getting freed from? What will Barbieland look like after this? Will we see a frowning Barbie?

That all said, I laughed a lot through the first two-thirds of the movie; it’s a very entertaining manifestation of a product concept and explores the impacts on young psyches. The ending is just a punchline. It felt a bit like floundering – “how should we end this thing? It was more fun when we were designing the beginning!”

Instagram pics:

2 thoughts on “Pondering Barbie

Leave a Reply