First, a caveat. I’ve not seen Greta’s Barbie, yet.
I fully intend to get there, but this mama doesn’t get a whole lot of time so, for a minute, I’m going to distill my thoughts on the ineffable Barbara Roberts up until now.
I’m an ’87 baby so Barbie was firmly established in the gestalt of modern consumerism by the time I showed up. Earliest memories involve adverts for Crinkle Hair Barbie, Malibu Barbie, Camping Adventure Barbie and so on. She really did it all, in heels no less, as all women did up until fairly recently.
She’s been a doctor, an astronaut, a computer savant and president, as well she should. She owned or pioneered all the awesome gear; transforming Campervan, eponymous Ferrari,
multiple houses, offices, resorts and, finally, a wheelchair, among a myriad of other fascinating odds and ends, familiars and friends. She was golden, on a hot pink throne.
My personal Barbie rebellion kicked in around age 9. I was deemed “a bit too old” by my maternal side. My dad’s side got me the RV set and the sister set! (Skipper, Stacey, Chelsea; a world of snazzy awesomeness); I was grateful but bored. I started to get frustrated with the pink. Pink ad infinitum.
I wasn’t a tomboy; I just wore jeans and liked dinosaurs and motorbikes, too. I had Barbie and her motorbike; it was a precarious thing to put on it’s kickstand but the pink was the real killer.
I wished long and hard for Barbie to have some real life colours represented in her belongings. (The appreciation for racial diversity didn’t come along until later.)
The transforming camper was awesome, and pink. The camping set was almost entirely pink, bar the firewood and marshmallow sticks. I know, such a first world issue. But by golly, it was also a deep-set glass ceiling issue, too.
Being fundamentally inseparable from her signature colour, I felt Barbie wasn’t as cool as she avowed she was. I felt less connected as years went on. The Simpson’s spoof of Malibu Stacey in the episode “Lisa Lionheart” really knocked Barbie’s perceived redundancy on the head with “Hehe, let’s bake cookies for the boys.” Yes, the role of a doll was traditionally to ready a girl for domesticity and motherhood but Barbie was meant to be more than that, and I didn’t want to bake cookies for anyone. I wanted to break the spell of her ubiquity so much and yet, a celebrity in toy catalogues, shelves and ads, she was such a lure.
Years passed, we broke apart: consciously uncoupled to quote the GoopMaster. I had some kids, daughters first, and Barbie was bland to them. They leapt from Peppa Pig to Ben 10 to Monster High, giving a vague “Yeah… whatever” to dear Ms. Roberts. I couldn’t disagree. The options were stagnant, where Monster High represented cool and alt, a position Bratz had held for quite a while prior.
Yet Barbie stayed, like an ageless dowager. She remained steadfast on shelves and in homes, idolised or transformed by her legions of disciples. Like the matriarch she has become since her inception in the 50s, her image and impact are indelible in the landscape of pop and Western culture.
When Mattel began the re-evaluation of her representation, I read of it and rejoiced. It does spark joy to see the plus-sized pink haired Barbie doll on the store shelf, the African, the
Brazilian, the East Asian, the South Asian. The options for mirrored inspiration aren’t infinite and there are a few chasms yet to bridge but they’re a vast deal better than 30 years ago.
Greta’s Barbie seems to have been written from a place of love, not money. Of absolute fondness, not a boardroom budget. All the best art pieces are. Reading of the devotion of the cast, of the intensely high quality of the set design to the fascinating Easter eggs built in to almost every scene, the Barbie movie 2023 is naught but fertile ground for a rejuvenation of her legacy as a whole. Barbie has been everything and is everything.
I can’t wait.