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Barbie: a Masterful Exploration of the Human Experience

pop culture

Thu, August 03

The article contains spoilers. If you haven't gotten to watching Barbie yet, please do!

Greta Gerwig's Barbie is a testament not only to being a woman, but to being human in general. It explores the intricacies of our mortality, empathy, and creativity. A film full of fun tunes and hilarious quips about the talking stage, it displays its message in a palatable way. Here, Gerwig reels her audience in, going for the hook, line, and sinker in the final moments of the film.

Womanhood Explored By Women

Barbie is an incredible dissection of the journey from girlhood to womanhood. The famous doll is sent to the real world after she notices some peculiarities in Barbie World: flat feet, cellulite, and thoughts of death. Her sudden "undesirableness" is a direct parallel to how girls wake up one day and are no longer gifted with the naiveté of childhood, taking note of the aspects of themselves that are looked down upon by society.

Barbie’s overwhelming thoughts about death are representative of the looming anxieties many people have. It’s a pretty simple allegory, yet the way Barbie was frowned upon for voicing her concerns is similar to how those with mental health issues are treated in our world. Barbie then covers up her mental state with a smile, something many women are once again socially pressured to do.

On a more satirical point, Barbie makes many comments about the female experience, such as, “I would never wear heels if my feet were shaped this way,” as commentary on how women are expected to wear heels in certain instances despite their discomfort.

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Gloria’s Monologue

Gloria (America Ferrera) delivers a monologue that is another tool used to examine womanhood and its relationship with society. Ferrera's powerful performance showcases her talent as an actor, but also the brilliance of Gerwig as a writer.

The scene takes place when Barbie, Gloria, and Gloria's daughter Sasha return to Barbieland, only to find it overruled by Kens. The other Barbies, essentially brainwashed by their counterparts, are in places of servitude. While not all women are in such positions in our world, a majority of women work under men. The transition from Barbieland to Kendom is representative of the innate pattern present in our society; men tend to hold places of power while women tend to serve them.

“Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong."

Barbie sobs to Gloria about how she doesn’t feel pretty enough to be "Stereotypical Barbie" (followed, of course, by a quip from the Narrator). She rants about how she doesn’t feel as exceptional as the other Barbies, who are Nobel Prize winners, political leaders, and scientists. Her self-consciousness is a parallel to the circumstances women face in the professional world; we must be exceptional to be accepted, yet we can never be more successful than our male peers.

“ You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard!”

Women are held to an impossible standard, and are subsequently berated for not meeting it. We must be nurturing, accommodating, and self-effacing. When we step out of this highly detailed mold, we are deemed unlikeable.

While upholding these personality traits, we must also stay youthful; stretch marks, cellulite, and wrinkles are strictly forbidden. If we do have them, we are deemed undesirable. The stress placed on women in our society is outrageous, and we must step out of our molds in order to change that.

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The Struggle Of Boyhood

Ken’s loss of innocence is a topic also explored throughout the film. As he and Barbie enter the real world, he realizes the intrinsic power he has as a man, while Barbie feels uncomfortable as a woman. He goes from being ignored by Barbie to essentially establishing the patriarchy in Barbieland.

By the end of the movie, he realizes that what he did was wrong and woefully apologizes to Barbie. It was apparent that he felt pressured by the other Kens to be with Barbie, and so was angry when denied. This anger caused him to create Kendom, where the Barbies were servants and lost their dreamhouses.

This paradox is an overwhelmingly common thing men experience. Media and social pressures push boys to behave in a traditionally masculine way and to date the "hottest" girl. They then compete with each other, pushing away the potential for emotionally intimate friendships.

Men are also often expected to hold back their emotions, something Ken does as well. Rather than expressing himself, he chose to create Kendom, harming other people in the process. Barbie's encapsulation of these anomalies present in the male experience pushes against them, encouraging men to be like Alan rather than Ken.

Many critics were taken aback by this commentary, pushing the rhetoric that Barbie was a misandrist film. However, it portrays the opposite.

Both Barbieland and Kendom are bad places to be. In Barbieland, Barbies are in power while Kens are the afterthought. In Kendom, Kens are in power and Barbies are in servitude. These two worlds illustrate that the imbalance in the equality of people make the world a toxic place to live in.

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A Ground-Breaking Conclusion

As Barbie looks around at her friends and her home, she laments, "I don't think I have an ending."

Ruth, the creator of Barbie and the narrator, tells her that her absence of ending was the whole point. We do not decide our fate at the first instance of our creation, nor do our parents. Instead, we journey through life and do so then.

They leave Barbieland together and have a conversation in the liminal space between Barbieland and the real world. Barbie asks Ruth if she can go to the real world and live as a human. Her creator replies with the most heart-wrenching line of the film:

“You don’t need my permission. I can’t control you any more than I could control my own daughter. I named you after her: Barbara. And I always hoped for you like I hoped for her. We mothers stand still, so our daughters can look back to see how far they’ve come.”

Gerwig proposes a final commentary on motherhood: mothers sacrifice for their children, with the hopes they exceed where they originate from. However depressing this line is, it places emphasis on the beauty of motherhood. The love of a mother is something that cannot be replicated, no matter how hard we try.

It also illustrates that parents must let go of their children at one point. We cannot hold our mothers' hands forever.

Ruth then tells Barbie to close her eyes and to feel. She sees the beauty of being human and a woman through the medium of home movies. The feelings this ignites in viewers is impossible to put into words, but it is definitely the heart of the film.

Barbie’s decision is such an intense point in the film. She has experienced the worst of human emotions: dejection, sadness, embarrassment. Yet she chooses to come to the human world.

She saw the beauty in being able to feel such a variety of emotions, a fact something we all need to consider. It is lovely we are able to experience sadness; it’s better than not being able to feel anything at all.

Barbie then battles with the most essential part of being human: acceptance.

Greta Gerwig provides a tribute to the crew and those close to their hearts in the ending portion of the film. The montage of women Barbie sees are all women either working on the film or women who made an impact on the crew. Gerwig also stated that the decision to include the home videos was to include something “truly made by the people."

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Barbie is most definitely a love story. Just not one between Barbie and Ken.

Rather, it is a love affair between women and womanhood. Women of all ages dressed in pink to go see Barbie in the theaters. While this may be a simple decision for many, it is a way to relive our childhoods. Where many of us were conditioned to hate pink to fit in, we had the opportunity to return to our childhood love for dressing up.

Barbie undeniably united women— a beautiful and incredible feat.

Ayla Miller
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Ayla is a current high schooler with an affinity for reading and writing. You can find her rewatching Top Gun, or reading The Hunger Games.