As a child, I had a small collection of Barbies that I played with on a regular basis: Totally Hair Barbie; Ocean Friend Barbie with baby Keiko, the whale; Teacher Barbie. I had gymnasts, ballerinas, and princesses. And while Barbie had already begun to scratch the surface of the hundreds of careers that she would embark on, they weren’t ones that interested me. I knew I wanted to be a teacher so I didn’t need to explore the world through the eyes of my dolls. Honestly, I don’t think I realized the impact that Mattel was trying to accomplish with Barbie when I was a child. To me, she was just another “girly” toy to add to my collection of Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies. Now, as a mother of six, I can truly see, understand, and appreciate the message Mattel was trying to make — that Barbie embodies every girl which means that every girl can do anything — and the 2023 Barbie movie helped to heal my inner child and solidify my belief in the Barbie dolls.
I was 16 when I had my first child – a girl – and I knew I wanted to introduce her to the world of Barbie as soon as she was old enough to play. I had seen the transformation Barbie lines had gone through (thanks, 2000’s American Idol Barbie!), and I noticed how Barbie and her circle of friends, including her sisters, embarked on new adventures and engaged in new careers: the 2005 Women of Royalty line, the 2005 Disney Mouseketeer, a TV Chef (2008), a swim instructor (2008), and repetitive runs for President. I knew that letting my little girl have access to these dolls was a way to allow her to explore the world and the options she had in it. As a young mother, I hoped she would learn that the world was open to her. If Barbie could be anything she wanted to be – including an astrophysicist (2020), an architect (2011), a game developer (2016), and a paleontologist (2018) – why couldn’t my daughter?
I wasn’t blind to the criticisms that Barbie and Mattel received: unrealistic body expectations, not enough range of body types and hair colors, always an able-bodied young woman. Consumers felt that Barbie was too perfect and made little girls feel incompetent and incomplete.
In the 2023 film, Sasha (played by Ariana Greenblatt) tells Barbie- “You’ve been making women feel bad about themselves since you were invented.”
But I knew, as a mother, that it was my job to teach my little girl that Barbie is a doll and while she serves as a role model in some things, she is not the ideal model of a female. It was, and still is, my job to teach my children – my sons and my daughters – that they are beautiful and amazing and worthy. In 2020 or 2021, my oldest child, a big sister to two, soon to be three, little brothers, came out to me as non-binary. We had already donated many of their old Barbie collection. One day shortly after they came out to me, they saw one of the Barbie Fashionista dolls: shorter in stature, blue denim overalls, and a short haircut, dyed green. The packaging did not identify the doll as being nonbinary, but this nontraditional version of Barbie intrigued my oldest child.
The Barbie movie solidified my belief that Barbie dolls can be fundamental role models for young children as long as we don’t rely solely on the dolls and the world of Barbie Land to teach them. Barbie has always been a symbol, an exploration of how capable women are, and the film solidifies that girls can make the choices to be whatever they want; they can even be like Weird Barbie.