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Barbie is out of her box
We’re familiar with Marylin Monroe’s rendition of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, where, even though it was filmed 10 years prior to the world being introduced to the phenomenon that is Barbie, she’s dressed from head to toe in the Barbiest shade of pink there is. We skip down the line to some 50 years later and see a whole culture taken over by bleached blond hair, pink color, and sequin overload. I’m talking, of course, about the early 2000s. As was the case with Monroe, the stupid and promiscuous bleach blonde trope resurfaces as we step into the new millennium.
It’s 20 years later. Barbie the Movie has been made by Greta Gerwig, a director well-known for her feminist views. Is Barbie here to ask for amends?
It’s all about phenomenal marketing, skeptics would say. The first colossal, meant for the big screen, there-was-a-shortage-of-color-pink-while-filming, Barbie movie is here. As your average millennial who understands that in reality, color has nothing to do with femininity, I am excited.
Wearing pink clothes from head to toe hasn’t been dope (or acceptable) since sixth grade, especially not those embedded with the Barbie logo. I’d say we are now in that stage of life when hanging out with our parents is cool and getting excited about Disney adaptations of timeless classics or buying a Barbie swimsuit or ice cream (Walmart Mexico now offers Barbie the Movie food) is OK’d.
Since the release date is around the corner, all those who once worshiped in the house of Barbie are jumping headfirst into the frenzy. Barbie x Fossil, Barbie x Gap, Barbie x Zara… The list is endless. The latest one? Finding your childhood Barbie on Etsy and seriously contemplating getting one.
The jaws of consumerism are tempting. What would I do with a Barbie doll at the ripe age of 29? Make her a shrine in the middle of my grandma’s flower garden, like I did when I first had her at the age of 5? Most likely sigh and admit that I’ve bought into the fever.
Created by Ruth Handler and first launched in 1959, Barbie was not the first, but is definitely the most famous doll. Ruth got the idea while watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls and give them adult roles and characteristics. Before this, the only dolls made for girls were typically represented as young children or infants.
Ruth was the one who noticed that there was obviously a demand on the market, and thus was created the blond, blue-eyed, busty Barbie.
Interestingly enough, the first Barbie that was available in stores came as both a brunette and a blond. However, it seems that the blond one caught on more, and even though in the course of time we’ve seen Barbie dolls of different ethnicities and hair colors, the first association with the name Barbie is of… well, someone looking exactly like Margot Robbie.
Barbie The Pink
Ever since she first came out, Barbie has had the reputation of a chic fashionista. Whether she was setting trends or following them (most likely it’s the latter), everybody who ever had a Barbie knows that half the fun is dressing her up. And since Barbie dolls are universally the same size (they are all size small, unfortunately), if you owned multiple dolls, the real joy was in mixing and matching their outfits. Oh, what fun times!
We have seen a rise in Barbiecore fashion and Valentino’s 2022–23 pink collection as a prequel to the official theatrical release of the movie; in other words, the whole world has been preparing to be swept away by the pinkness. It got me thinking: at the time when I was growing up, the color pink and blond hair were very popular, but it was mostly related to an image of a rather superficial and vapid girl.
Popular culture has depicted what was until recently considered feminine as frivolous and dumb. I’ve recently had a guy friend who I consider to be a feminist tell me my Instagram feed was too girly because apparently it had a lot of pink.
I initially took offense. But then it dawned on me: Why was that my initial reaction? Am I a girl, or am I not? (I am.) Am I less of a girl if I’m girly? Am I less capable? Strong? Smart?
Can the color pink finally be forgiven for its completely uncalled-for reputation? Is Barbie here to ‘’allow’’ us to express our femininity through wearing the color pink without being regarded as silly? I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I love pink! And I would really like it if the overwhelmingly huge amount of it present in the spring and summer collections of every retailer would stay.
You know what’s even better than the color pink? Pink sequins!
Pink Is The Warmest color
Maybe its undeserved reputation of being frivolous and/or even unchaste (think early 2000s blond, pink Juicy tracksuit bimbo trope) stems its origin from the first one who made it widely popular: the infamous mistress of the French king Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour. Still, as I already explored in my Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Androgynous Fashion article, the color pink was not yet associated with a specific gender in the 18th century. Most likely, Madame de Pompadour loved it so much because it was difficult to attain and therefore expensive. Most historians agree that this particular tendency occurred right after the Second World War because, at the time, there was a strong need for re-establishing the well-known, preconceived Western gender roles. Having in mind that Barbie came on the scene in 1959, it’s no wonder her world is painted pink.
As this article goes to show, pink embodies the vastest variety of contradictions of any other color. Its lighter shades are associated with childlike innocence, while its darker shades are what temptresses wear. Where does Barbie stand in this conundrum?
In her exclusive interview with Vogue, Margot Robbie addresses this as well: “I’m like, Okay, she’s a doll. She’s a plastic doll. She doesn’t have organs. If she doesn’t have organs, she doesn’t have reproductive organs. If she doesn’t have reproductive organs, would she even feel sexual desire? No, I don’t think she could.” Therefore, “She is sexualized. But she should never be sexy. People can project sex onto her.” Thus: “Yes, she can wear a short skirt, but because it’s fun and pink. Not because she wanted you to see her butt.”
Once again, it seems that Robbie speaks in the voices of women around the world who’ve had it with the sexualisation of their bodies.
Barbie Is Giving Us Our Childhood Back
From what we see in the official trailer for Barbie the Movie, she was living in Barbie Land until it was time for her to go out to the real world, where not everybody exactly loved seeing her. Some Gen Zs give poor, freaked-out Barbie snark: “We haven’t played with Barbie since we were five” (they’re around 12 now), which made me think of this universal notion that cuts through generations: we are in such a hurry to grow up and start taking ourselves and the world so seriously that we forget to leave time for playfulness.
This is why Barbie the movie and its sparkly, pink, over-the-top allure have come at the right time: in today’s day and age, and especially after COVID, it seems like we collectively need to chill the hell out and plunge into oceans of pink and sparkles. It won’t solve all of our problems, obviously. But, as Greta Gerwig said, “It’s a movie that I think can really cut across generations and genders. Everyone can find a pink, glittery existential dance party in their heart.”
In the trailer, we can hear Will Ferrell yell out, “No one rests till that doll is back in the box!” while panic-stricken Barbie is running for dear life. By using a platform such as the big screen, Robbie and Gerwig are trying to restitute a misshapen image that’s been following the beloved doll, and in doing that, are saying that Barbie will break away from the box. And so will every girl who wishes to, and all in pink, mind you. The only thing is, we might do it in sneakers rather than pumps because our heels do touch the ground.
Edit: After having watched Barbie the Movie, I stand by everything that I wrote above. It is a story about two polarities, the Real World and Barbieland, the first one being ruled by patriarchy and the latter by matriarchy, while the middle is the solution.