I was 40 years old when my husband gifted me a Barbie Doll—a French Edition Collector Barbie dressed in a cancan dress with a pink and white striped bodice and black skirt, a pink feathered hat, and a black choker—a nod to my French heritage. It was the first and only Barbie I ever owned.
Only the daughters of the wealthy could afford to buy Barbies when I was growing up in Lebanon. For girls like me, the doll existed on the colorful pages of European fashion catalogs. Her fancy clothes, Dreamhomes, and trendy accessories represented the “American Dream”—a world where one could be whatever they wanted to be with a simple outfit change. I begged my mom for one, knowing she could not afford it. “In America, you’ll be able to buy all the Barbies you want,” she would reassure me.
Although my desire to own a Barbie waned when I immigrated to the U.S. at sixteen, I couldn’t help but stare anytime I saw the doll at the mall, the toy store, or even the grocery store. However, by then, child play had been replaced by real-life obligations such as college and work.
It wasn’t until my daughter was two years old that I became immersed in Barbie’s world again. For eight years, I indulged her obsession with everything Barbie, spending hundreds of dollars on the latest dolls, clothes, and accessories for hours of playtime. I loved seeing her transform cardboard boxes into furniture for her dolls, joining her for teatime with Barbie, and watching her recreate scenes from some of her favorite animated Barbie movies, such as Barbie in the Nutcracker, Barbie of Swan Lake, and Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses.
Although I wished my daughter’s love for Barbies would last forever, by the time she turned 10, her attention shifted to hanging out with her friends, decorating her room, and playing sports. When we heard about the Barbie movie, however, we got “pink fever” all over again. We donned matching Barbie shirts, wore pink makeup, and headed to the movie theatre. Halfway through the film, our anticipation turned into surprise, confusion, and disappointment.
I realize the movie has grossed billions of dollars at the box office and amassed legions of fans. I also recognize that Mattel has faced backlash over the years for creating a doll that didn’t represent a typical female physique, then attempted to rectify that by introducing more realistic Barbies that embodied the diversity of its customers. Yet, despite all these changes, young girls continued to own the narrative to create hours of adventures. Whether in the Middle East, Europe, or the U.S., the lure of Barbie is its ability to spark the imagination without any agendas or preconceived notions.
The movie didn’t make me lose faith in a doll I admired all my life, nor did it stop my now 14-year-old daughter from wanting to save her bins full of Barbie dolls in the hopes of sharing them with her daughter someday. But, I wonder how powerful and more effective it would have been if the plot was based on Ruth Handler’s final words to Barbie, “Humans only have one ending. Ideas live forever,” and allowed the doll to remain an icon that transcends borders, cultures, and self-deprecating human emotions.