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Feeling Failed by Society Barbie

Mom with two teenage daughters
Alternative Barbie and Crew

Sea of Pink

As the synthesizer starts, I turn the volume up, and from the backseat of my Kia Sportage come two fake groans. I look in the rearview mirror at my daughters, and with perfect timing, lip sync “Hiya Barbie! Hi Ken! You wanna go for a ride? Sure Ken. Jump In!” On cue, we all start dancing and singing along. This is what elder millennial dreams are made of

The Barbie movie has been out for a few weeks now. Everywhere we go we see a sea of pink. I’m even wearing pink today, and it’s my least favorite color. I took my daughters to see the movie yesterday, finally, after a countdown led by them. My excitement was equally matched by theirs. It wasn’t always this way.

Barbie Dream House

When I was 8, my mom and brother built me a Barbie dream house for my birthday while I was in gymnastics class. It was a 2-story luxury palace, complete with a “working” elevator (you had to pull the string to get it to the top, a pure delight). My mom and dad saved for months for that doll house, and it couldn’t have cost more than $20, but it was the most excited I had ever seen my mom about a gift.

“Close your eyes” she said, as I walked in, sweaty from class, wanting nothing but a juice box and some TV time. My birthday was still two days away, but something about her made it feel like today was the day all my dreams would come true. She led me to my bedroom, and with a “Tada!” I opened my eyes.

It was pink. It was all pink. I walked over to the wooden home for wayward dolls and kneeled in front of it. My leotard was a size too small and was pinching me, but I managed to hide the grimace and instead put a smile on my face. “Thank you, mom and dad! I love it! I can’t wait to play with it!”

I was a girl, so I played with Barbies.

I had really wanted art supplies or Troll dolls for my birthday that year, but when my mom started collecting Barbies from yard sales and clearance racks months earlier, I knew what was about to happen. I was a girl, so I played with Barbies. That was the cross I had to bear. At first, I used the Barbie house as a meeting spot for all my Troll dolls during their adventures. The red one was planning a mutiny against green and blue, so there was work to be done. I would always include one Barbie doll to appease my mother, usually as a type of guardian or nurturer.

More Barbies

The next year, I was given more Barbie for my birthday. That time felt different. I received a Native American Barbie. I opened the box up in wonder as I pulled her out. She was the most beautiful Barbie I had ever seen, with intricate clothes, turquoise earrings, and a story in her eyes. I named her Amanda, after one of my friends at the time who was Native, and I couldn’t wait to show her her namesake.

Amanda became queen of that Barbie house. She threw Trolls out and made history in the kingdom of my bedroom. There were no more wayward dolls, they became a community. My mom taught me how to sew, and I sewed all my Barbies new clothes, and more often than not they would resemble Amanda’s dress without me even knowing it. It was a mini army, and I was in charge.

My Daughters Today

I look at my daughters now, at almost 13 and 16, trying out their own styles, figuring out what to believe in the world, headphones in and miles away. They were never really Barbie girls. My oldest wanted to play with dragons and rocks and bugs, and my youngest went straight to wanting her own mini army to rule the world (not kidding, that one learned blackmail before she learned to write her name). My mom bought them Barbies for birthdays and Christmases, and they went straight into the toy bin with all the other dolls and unwanted toys and hid under the mountains of Hot Wheels and dinosaur figurines until their hair was matted.

Reunited with Amanda

A few years ago, I found Amanda, tucked inside a keepsake box next to my bendable Where’s Waldo doll that I held equal affinity towards. I felt that same sense of awe that I had the first time I unwrapped the box. I took her out and brought her to my youngest daughter as a peace offering after a difficult day. She was delighted. A few weeks later at Target she found the Barbie aisle, and we bought Amanda a friend.

I thought to myself, “Wow, has the Barbie aisle gotten bigger?” I was amazed at the shift Barbie went through in the last couple decades. There was no more Disco Barbie, Evening Gown Barbie, Itty Bitty Bikini Barbie. There were Barbies in every shape, size, gender, and occupation. The Barbie my daughter picked out was a plus sized teacher Barbie. Even my oldest nature lover stopped to gaze at some of the dolls. We were in an actual pink wonderland, where so many things were possible. We didn’t HAVE to play with dolls, we could choose to.

Barbie the Movie

So here we are, women and girls of all ages, praising a movie based on a toy. Comments and articles and videos online discussing the hype that a lot of people just don’t get. I’ll tell you about the hype.

We’re not here for Barbie the doll. We are here for Barbie the woman having an existential crisis. We are here for Barbie the president, the physicist, the judge. (I am very much here for weird Barbie.) We are here, feeling failed by society so much that we pass that on to our toys and our joys.

We are here for Gloria, and every other woman struggling to simply BE. We are here, girls of multiple generations, who are turning into, or have become, women who feel so much pressure in the world we are given and made to fit into. We are the daughters of mothers who were only given one option of toy to play with growing up, so they clung to that idea of who girls were and had to be and passed it onto us along with the plastic dolls.

We are here, and we will unironically be belting out Barbie Girl (and Closer to Fine).

Author: Joanna Good Artist, writer, INFP. Loves cats, books, Brandi Carlile, and dessert of any kind.



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