I am the first Olsen girl (from my little Olsen family) to get a Barbie. In preparation for going to the Barbie movie, Emily, my daughter-in-law, bought it for me from the Thrift Store. It cost $4.00. The doll’s dirty blond hair is a mess and I don’t know what the designers were thinking when they made her outfit—mud-brown, fake corduroy pants and a dark blue, blousy, superhero top. Not pink. Not glitzy. Not fun. Not attractive. And, they didn’t do a good job of applying her make-up—heavy on the eyes, too blue and smudgy lipstick.  

But it’s her legs. They are about 1-½ times the length of the rest of her body put together, on her tip toes of course. My Barbie, like every Barbie, is in a perpetual stance of trying to look over the fence.  

I didn’t know, until I watched the movie that flat feet or feet in flats or worse, in Birkenstocks, were Barbie defying.  

I don’t know what to do with my Barbie doll. She’s too small to knit her a sweater although she really does need to get out of those clothes.  

My mother never let me own a Barbie. She bought me Barbie’s little sister, Skipper, for my 10th birthday (not blow up boob Skipper–that might have been intriguing). I don’t remember asking for a doll nor do I recall ever playing with it.  

When I sent an email to the females in my family and asked if anyone ever had a Barbie my youngest daughter, Heather, responded, “Mom, in what world are you living? You are my mother. Remember? You never let us have Barbies.”  

In the family spirit, to the third generation, my daughters and daughter-in-law never let their daughters have Barbies either. However, even while missing a relationship with this cultural icon, most of us still have body issues and measure the length of our legs against Barbie’s unachievable benchmark.  

Twelve Olsens and friends attended the Barbie movie the other night…grandsons, granddaughters…I didn’t want them to miss the gender critique, the current cultural analysis of the patriarchy and its outcomes. I want to hear what they have to say.  

I am still mulling it over and as yet am not quite sure what to say for myself about the movie. I’m wondering how, in 2023, the movie got away with the starkly differentiated male/female portrayal of human sexuality/asexuality. I’m wondering why there hasn’t been a Karbie or Ben–at least a mention.

I’m still thinking about the wrap up scene—Barbie visiting a gynaecologist. I can’t find any movie reviewers who mention this part of the film but I think it’s pivotal…when the dolls get real and get genitals Barbie got the vagina. It’s so clear-cut. It’s strangely out of sync with the open-ended gender discussions and struggles my grandchildren are currently experiencing.  

I was struck by how terrifyingly similar the glitzy, pink, plastic, fake Barbie world imitated the concrete, glass, shiny, glitzy real world. I’m thinking about how the line between the fake and the real world is getting blurred and how we are finding it increasingly difficult to know the difference.  

I haven’t heard from my grandsons yet but two of my granddaughters cried.  

Madison, who is 20, said:  

“One part that made me cry was when they talked about body image. I’ve had so many issues with it all my life. Then I cried and cried when the mother was listing off the struggles of being a woman. I’ve never heard that topic being acknowledged like that. It caught me off guard.  

“At the end when they played clips of a girl’s life and the narrator told us to “close your eyes and feel” I could feel my life going by so fast…almost out of control. I want to slow it down and cherish it. I couldn’t stop sobbing.”  

Yetsa, who is 26, put it this way:  

“I cried for a couple of reasons, mostly about being a woman and how hard that can be. But we already knew that. I cried because I’m sensitive and cry at everything. But I think it was really just about being a woman. It is exhausting, especially for young girls.

“Men have it easier. They are stomping around the world, fighting with each other, while women are trying to hold it all together for everyone. I cried because of all these things and the world itself is seriously something that drains me daily.  

“I was crying because little girls since forever and for the foreseeable future are growing up in a world that doesn’t make them feel very good about themselves. That makes me sad.  

“But then it’s not just little girls. The thought of how many people are feeling that way…could be a little girl or a mom…even a 65 year-old man…makes me sad. Everyone is carrying a lot of weight from the world. The movie brought all that out in me.”    

Good work director, Greta Gerwig. Good work Hollywood for giving us something we obviously need think about…deeply.

9 thoughts on “Barbie thoughts

  1. So interesting you got flat chested Skipper…me too! My Dad did not agree with a doll with boobs…I was the only one to get Skipper in my neighborhood my friend Bridget would let me use her spare Barbie…we never got any clothes or accessories….we would make fabulous ball gowns from Bridget:s Mum’s scarf drawer.and our hair elastics…..we immediately ditched the name…our dolls were Stephanie and Veronica….the fanciest names we could think of…no Ken we cared less about boys
    The one part of the movie (I was number 14) that kind of threw me…Sugar Daddy Ken…what!!!
    I agree, it did make us think…I am still wondering in what Universe we need Sugar Daddy Ken….

  2. i doubt i will see this movie, we rarely go to movies anyways…but i am remembering when my parents or someone gave me a barbie when i was a child…i never played with dolls so i did not really know what to do with it…my brothers helped me whack her hair off and we gave her tatoos and i remember trying to reshape her feet by melting them…poor barbie…she did not survive long

    1. I’m having an interesting response from the “doll players” and the “non doll players”. I’m thinking about two kinds of girls. I love your memory of melting her feet…sort of brutal but understandable…the feet are just weird.

  3. I always preferred stuffed animals as a kid, or my brother’s Tonka trucks, but my sisters were fans. My mom did make cool Barbie furniture; a 4-poster bed out of a shoe box, and sewed all kinds of clothes for them. I hope you’ll make Barbie a sweater, and keep fostering good discussions with your grandkids.

  4. The irony of an American iconic toy – based on a German sex doll (Bild- Lilli) finally confronts the patriarchy and women’s issues on film.

  5. You say there was no Karbie or Ben, but there was a Barbie played by a transgender actress, so I think they made their message pretty clear by treating her just like all the other Barbies 🙂

  6. I was disturbed by the baby doll bashing at the beginning, so violent, really set the tone for me. Interesting that this movie played to sold out audiences in my small town. I seldom go to movies these days because I need closed captions, thank you Netflix and CBC.

  7. interesting comments. I, being much older than the commenters on your blogs, never had a Barbie but when l was growing up in Britain I had a ” roddy” doll, she was not tiptoed or voluptuous in any way but she did stimulate me to learn to sew on my mothers treadle singer and make her clothes. A skill I have developed and used most of my adult life to sew many of my dresses etc. My daughter had a barbie, which has not survived. I had little interest in seeing the movie but the comments stimulated by it are interesting.

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