Growing up, I was never interested in playing with my Barbie dolls. My childhood memories were filled with riding bikes in the summer heat and playing video games when it was too hot outside. I will admit, I enjoyed watching a few of the classic Barbie movies. Each reincarnation of Barbie always showed her as a passionate and hardworking female that always found a way to push through any tough situation.
But there is more to that, right? In our world, there is more to life than just “working hard” and being passionate. There are no evil witches and wizards there to stop you from chasing your dreams. The real world isn’t as colorful, vast, or magical as the movies.
What I did not expect from the new live-action Barbie movie was a serious lesson that all of us need to discuss about. Yes, Barbie covers heavier issues such as sexism and patriarchy. It is incredible to see a female director mixing comedy and feminism refreshingly and enjoyably. However, seeing Barbie through what society has labeled the "ideal woman" have an existential crisis and scramble in our world was ridiculously…emotional.
Coming out of the theater and listening to What Was I Made For as the credits rolled made me think…
It made me long for those days when I did feel alive.
A time when every day felt like a perfect day.
How should I feel as an adult in the real world?
Barbie is a love letter to our childhoods. It’s seeing the changes in your relationship with yourself as you get older.
When did it end?
When did I stop thinking like a kid? Actually, when did I stop being a kid?
My parents still show me old camera footage of me as a wobbly little toddler trying to twirl around in tutus while watching Barbie movies. I could barely recall my closet filled with pink and other bright colors.
According to my parents, it was a short-lived era. Later on in my childhood years, I would be more “tomboyish”. Changing interests was good. It was a sign that I was open to new ideas, but I started to loathe the term “childish.” I started to hate the color pink and traded my bright-colored skirts for jeans. Plushies were replaced by video games. My ballet shoes and tights turned into sparring gear and Tae-Kwon-Do belts.
My “tween” years solidified my “child-hating” mentality. I cringed at those old videos of me singing and dancing in sparkly clothes. On the other hand, my parents (especially my mom) cherished them.
“Why was I so girly? Did I want to be a princess? Why did you let me do that?!” At the time, I didn’t understand why my parents would allow me to look like an idiot.
“Because it was cute!” Mom said. “One day, you’ll look back at these and enjoy watching it.”
In Barbie, there are two major characters that I believe aren’t talked enough about: Gloria and her daughter Sasha. In the movie, Sasha calls out “stereotypical” Barbie for promoting unrealistic ideals and ruining her childhood expectations. Most people would see this as the movie’s way of taking a lighthearted jab at Mattel, but it’s much deeper than that.
Admittedly, I disliked how Sasha reacted to Barbie, which came off as harsh and cold. However, she has a point. Sasha reminds us of the negative effects that Barbie unintentionally had on our culture and a time when I started to dislike Barbie. I liked the movies as a kid because they were entertaining, not because I related to them. There was always a disconnect between Barbie and me, which only grew further as I got older. I knew from a young age that I didn’t look like Barbie, nor did I believe that love and friendship saved the day. Both Sasha and I saw how ridiculously ideal and stereotypical Barbie was.
But Gloria still loves Barbie. To her, Barbie let her be imaginative and escape reality. She is aware of the adverse effects that “stereotypical” Barbie had on her daughter and the rest of the world, but Barbie is also a reminder of how it feels to be young and to have strong aspirations and dreams.
Both of these characters represent how I’ve come full circle: a time when I loved Barbie as a child, how I hated the idea of being associated with Barbie as a teen; and finally, the longing to be a child again as an adult. Barbie made me realize how much I didn’t get to appreciate my childhood. I started to feel guilty for forcing myself to look “mature for my age” or “grow up faster”. In reality, I don’t want to stop being a kid, but on the other hand, I know that it is impossible to turn back. It is important to be where I am right now. I need to move on, just like Barbie, and face reality.
It Was Real
Watching Barbie sent me spiraling down a rabbit hole I never thought I would fall into. It made me realize it is perfectly valid to grieve over something intangible. That’s how we know we are still human, and that it is okay to feel this way.
Annie Wright, a licensed psychotherapist and trauma recovery specialist, stated.
When people try to downplay our emotions, it makes it harder for them to connect with themselves healthily and positively. This can harm our mental stability, increase our suffering, and complicate the path toward healing and acceptance.
“You get to grieve the loss of your identity.”
“You get to grieve expectations you have to let go of.”
“You get to grieve the passing of time and your aging.”
Most of us know what the five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The movie depicts all of these stages perfectly. As we go through each stage of grief, we learn more about different perspectives and become more open to new ideas. It’s a healing process everyone must go through.
Denial is first shown when Barbie tries to force her negative thoughts away. I was in denial of feeling sad. I didn’t want to feel sad that I wasn’t a child anymore. Society celebrates the day people start becoming “mature,” even more so when it shows at a young age. But if you act like a child and show your true emotions, society frowns upon that.
The next stage is anger, which is often built up when we deny our feelings. The scene where Sasha yells at Barbie is a perfect representation of what ... happens when anger builds up inside a person. This would symbolize the anger of confronting something that we lost. I was angry at Barbie because I lost my connection with her. I was also angry that I lost my childhood dreams. At that time, I thought that looking too feminine made me look too vulnerable. On the other hand, having an interest in activities that were defined as “masculine” were seen as impolite. Gloria’s speech shows true feminine anger and frustration with how society defines what women are to be seen as.
“You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can't ask for money because that's crass...”
Yes, Barbie made me realize that I was and still am an angry person. Even more so, angry at the way I felt the need to box myself into a certain identity to feel secure.
Bargaining is one of the strangest stages of grief. Here is when people do something irrational to attempt or force normalcy back into their lives. Throughout the entire movie, Barbie is trying to bargain and find a way to feel “normal” again. During this stage, I also tried bargaining with my childhood self by doing the things that I did as a child. I started to take dance classes again but noticed how my body had significantly lost its strength and memories. I tried to find joy in things that I used to enjoy or revisited different places that previously made me happy. Each time I did this, it felt like I was in a different world; familiar, yet in a strange way…unfamiliar. It was as if pieces from my memory were missing.
Then came depression. Seeing Barbie during her lowest point was a pivotal moment in the movie. It made me recall all of the times I wished I was happier and stress-free. For many people, this is the hardest stage to come out of, especially when you are faced with what was lost and knowing that you can never go back to the way things were.
And finally, acceptance. Towards the end of the movie, Barbie finally accepts that what she wants in the real world is to be happy. This allowed It was sad knowing that I could have expressed more about how I felt in the past instead of labeling my emotions as immature. I regretted hating my past versions of myself. Deep down, I still want Barbie and I still like the color pink. Somewhere, I still keep those childhood dreams and memories. Towards the end of the movie, Barbie finally accepts that she wants to be in the real world to be happy. All of us can find happiness in the real world. Sometimes, it just takes a whirlwind of emotions to find it.
Someday I might…
Everyone can learn from Barbie. Whether you identify with Barbie, Ken, or even our spirit animal, Allan, the Barbie movie has a lesson for each and every one of its viewers. I never fell in love with Barbie, however, the movie taught me that it is okay to grieve over something you can’t see or touch.
Everyone was like Barbie once. During my childhood years, I wasn’t afraid of what people thought. Just like Barbie, I had big dreams and passions to change the world in some way. It’s okay if you still want to be a princess as an adult. Hold on to your childhood dreams. I know that I still have a long way to go to reach those goals. Don’t be discouraged from trying to revisit your childhood. People can learn a lot from their childhood selves. Please don’t forget that little version of you.
To that little girl all those years ago, I’m sorry. I never wanted to shut you out. All you wanted was to be accepted for who you are. Even if you are wearing your favorite pink skirt or edgy black shirt, or when you aren’t having a perfect day, just know that you’ll always be my Barbie. No matter if you are wearing your favorite pink skirt or your edgy black shirt. Even when you aren’t having a perfect day. You will always be my Barbie.
About The Author
Alina is currently a junior at UNLV. She graduated from Northwest Technical Career Academy in 2021 from the Media Communications program. So far, she has been working as a full-time student but has an extensive history with reporting, acting, graphic design, social media management, editing, and writing. This summer, she is an intern for both The Love Yourself Foundation and OneSeven Agency for marketing. Since the pandemic, she started making content and streams on YouTube and Twitch. She also has experience with voiceovers and audio and video editing.