The Barbie movie was a box office hit this summer. While it is a comedy, Barbie includes an in depth commentary on societal issues.
The Barbie movie was a box office hit this summer. While it is a comedy, Barbie includes an in depth commentary on societal issues.
Photo by Sadie Good

Life in plastic, is it really fantastic?

An examination of social commentary in the Barbie movie.

As a kid, my mom never let me play with Barbies— according to her, the blonde, blue-eyed representation of womanhood was hardly a good role model for a little girl who looked nothing like her. However, this summer, my mom’s perspective on Barbie changed, and so did mine. 

The Barbie movie hit social media by storm this July and, like millions of people,  my mom and I bought tickets. A lot has changed since I was a little girl and, after hearing some incredible reviews, I knew it was time to reintroduce Barbie into our lives.

Four simple words can describe the experience: beautiful, hilarious, and absolutely devastating. To start, the Barbie movie not only comments on serious issues, such as anxiety, body shaming, and the objectification of women (just to name a few), but it also acknowledges the moments in which its inclusions fall short. Though the movie features Barbies of various ethnicities and body types, they do not claim to be the epitome of representation. By repeatedly acknowledging that the original Barbie is hardly inclusive of all walks of womanhood, the writers do not deny their shortcomings. Moreover, they highlight the aspects of being a woman.

To put it simply, the Barbie movie is about, you guessed it, Barbie. The movie explores her journey in discovering her identity as a woman in the real world, with the help of a dysfunctional mother-daughter duo. However, all is not well in Barbie Land: while Barbie is roaming the streets of the real world looking for a purpose, the Kens are wreaking patriarchal chaos and tipping Barbie Land upside down. The Barbie movie showcases many parallels (some comedic, some just downright sad) between Barbie Land and our society that I would like to address.

Right off the bat, they introduce ‘Barbie Land’ as a society that is the inverse of our own. The Barbies live in perfect, pink harmony; they hold all positions of power, and even the Barbies that don’t work (AKA: Original Barbie), are not looked down upon. Barbies win Nobel Prizes, which they proudly admit they deserve; Barbies are educated; Barbies are doctors, authors, or anything else they want to be. And the Kens? Well, they’re just Kens. They hold jobs such as “beach” (not lifeguard, though it is a common misconception), and though the Barbies acknowledge them, the Barbies do not revolve around the Kens— the Kens revolve around the Barbies. Everything revolves around the Barbies.

When I say this is the inverse of our own society, I think of the stereotypical family in which the man goes to work and the woman stays home. The man’s job is to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a businessman, or whatever he wants to be, while the woman’s job is just “house.”

Then, entering another, more obvious parallel, I think of the fact that even though these women were told to be homemakers and trophy wives, they were shamed just decades later for doing that exact thing. As America Ferrara’s character, Gloria, in her mid-movie monologue says, women are expected to be everything all at once. Women are meant to be educated, but not know-it-alls. To be hard workers, but also homemakers. To be nice, but not flirty, but also not a prude. To be skinny but curvy but still petite. We must be everything that is desired of us but must not desire any of it ourselves. In short, women must revolve around men, just as the Kens must revolve around the Barbies. We must never complain.

However, there is a large difference between the treatment of the Kens to the treatment of women in our own society; the Kens are not degraded. At most, they are portrayed as a little silly and ignored, but that is because Barbie is a comedy movie. A comedy movie that deals with serious issues, yes, but a comedy movie nonetheless. The Barbies are dismissive of the Kens, a rudeness that is later seriously addressed by the Barbies, but the Kens are not thought of as lesser or subhuman. 

In short, although Barbie Land is the inverse of our own, the treatment of the Kens still does not compare to the treatment of our world’s “Barbies.” This is pointed out later in the movie and is a great example of the comedy that director Greta Gerwig brought to the table when depicting serious issues. There are multiple times throughout the movie in which the characters use the ‘universal’ experiences of real women to add irony to the plot— at one point, the Barbie’s have the Ken’s play guitar at them in an uncomfortable musical performance, and at a later time, the Barbie and the real women joke about the horrors of developing cellulite and bond over having something mansplained to them for hours at a time. This lighthearted take on the more difficult parts of womanhood made me laugh each and every time, and brought a much more lighthearted, comedic mood to the overall plot. 

This balance was something I have not found often in other movies and really appreciated. Sometimes it is difficult to consume media that simply talks about how terrible the world is, especially when it is in reference to your life. I do not know if I would be able to sit through 1 hour and 54 minutes of how hard it is to be a woman and then proceed with my life, living as one. But on the contrary, the Barbie movie spent as much, if not more, time celebrating the experiences of women. They explore the unique mother-daughter dynamic and discuss the importance of lifting other women up instead of tearing them down; in one heartwarming scene, Barbie meets an elderly woman at a bus stop and tells her that she is beautiful— the woman smiles and says “I know.”

I loved the Barbie movie with all my heart and soul and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a hilarious yet insightful movie into the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of being a woman.

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