August 8, 2023

I am Weird Barbie.

*Editor’s Note: spoilers ahead!


Like many worldwide, I contributed to the now $1.03 billion return on Greta Gerwig’s creative investment/venture, The “Barbie” Movie.

I initially went to the theater on opening weekend with my BFF Barb, who my father called “Barbie Doll,” and was delighted and surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. I figured it would be an hour and 54-minute commercial for Mattel. Instead, I found that it was filled with whimsy and wisdom, a rebuke of the patriarchy, but not a put-down of men. It shines the light on the intention of the little, plastic people called Barbie to stand as role models for girls and women. I wrote this piece right afterward, called What Would It Be Like To Live In Barbieland?

The primary character, portrayed by Margot Robbie, is referred to as “Stereotypical Barbie” who has no special talents or interests and spends her days in a state of euphoria where she expects nothing would change. That is, until she has a thought that has plagued humans for an eternity: Death. This shows up in the midst of a highly choreographed dance piece and sends the music and the dancers to a screeching halt. She covers well and then goes to bed, anticipating another perfect day. Instead she wakes up to experiences that are not normal for dolls and wonders where they are coming from. She goes on an adventure with stowaway Ken (the blond hair, beach-dwelling dude, played to perfection with Ryan Gosling) in the pink convertible to the Indigo Girls song “Closer to Fine,” covered on the soundtrack in a much mellower version than the rousing piece in the film itself, by Brandi and Catherine Carlile, to the RealWorld from whence her thoughts are emanating. This Ken pines after Robbie’s Barbie and she only sees him as a platonic, plastic buddy. He is extraneous, and he doesn’t like it, which becomes clear later in the movie.

Since its launch, I have read a whole bunch of commentary on the film; some from professional journalists, others who saw it, and still others who swear they will never see it because of what they consider the “woke” and subversive messages it contains. Messages such as women can be in positions of leadership and it is considered normal. Every member of their Supreme Court are Barbies. The President of Barbieland is a Barbie. There is a Barbie pilot, a Barbie doctor played by transgender actor, Hari Nef (this is one element that shocked complainers opposed to her casting), a Barbie Nobel winning journalist, a Barbie astronaut, and one unique unto herself doll called “Weird Barbie.” Played by SNL alum Kate McKinnon, she was the standout for me, even though she was considered an outcast from the Barbie community. She became who she was because she was played with in ways not intended by the manufacturer. Her hair got cut and burned, and her face was disfigured by colorful markers by her child. She went into hiding in her own rainbow-hued tower above the pretty and delicate pink houses in which the Barbies lived. Her role was to help Barbies who were no longer in fashion.

I knew I had to see it again and was also certain that I would glean even more treasure. That I did, along with my cousin Jody. One of the first things that jumped out at me is that I am Weird Barbie. While my hair is not spiky short anymore, there was a decade or so when it was. Even though I didn’t draw on my face with markers, I did sprinkle rainbow glitter on my face and hair. I still dress colorfully. I am not physically contortioned like she is and I can’t stretch my leg up the wall and could never do a full split even when I was young and flexible. People come to me to help them heal their emotional and mental wounds, and as a psychotherapist, I guide them to discover their own power and their own truth like she did.

Once in the RealWorld, Barbie and Ken encounter a reality that doesn’t match what they experience in Barbieland. What she learns is that the intention of empowered womanhood in that realm to spread outward just didn’t take root. What Ken sees feeds his need to overcome his own powerlessness in the matriarchal community he lived in. What he brings back is a stereotype of toxic masculinity. My takeaway about all the Kens was that they are a parody of competitive men, a parody of men who aren’t sure who they are without being in a relationship, a parody of men who think they are owed positions of power simply because they have male privilege. It took a major shift in perception for Ken to realize he was enough or “Kenough” as was charmingly referenced in the film. He was complete in and of himself.

The beauty of the story of the mother daughter team of Gloria and Sasha (America Ferrara and Ariana Greenblatt) is that it is a reflection of their own bond, their various perspectives, the role Barbie played in their lives, and how they came to know themselves better for meeting the human-sized Barbie. A brilliant speech is given by Ferrara is a core truth about women and, sadly, is the lived experience for many of us.

I resonated with the conversation between Barbie and her creator Ruth Handler played with style and grace by Rhea Perlman as she reminds her that even as a creation, Barbie has free will and can choose her reality and future. The choice she makes and the final scene brought laughter to the theater, for those of an age to have that particular experience.

Wishing you your best day ever!


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