OPINION: The new ‘Barbie’ movie is one step forward, two steps back

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

Her flowing golden locks and iconic slender waist were what made her the archetype of the Hollywood dream girl.

Now, she’s making a comeback.

The new “Barbie” movie, an adult comedy, will star Margot Robbie as the live action version of the doll, according to Variety.

The making of this movie seems like a regression to the same problematic perception of beauty from which we were emerging.

It’s no secret these societal ideas of beauty, color and weight are fed to us from childhood, and a long-time culprit is Mattel’s Barbie.

She’s tall, she’s blonde, she’s thin and she’s white. Young girls played with her hair, and consequently, impossible body dimensions were what we began to crave.

The psychological effects of having a perfect doll given to us were substantial — we idolized the dolls, which for many people manifested in the form of eating disorders or a desire to get plastic surgery. For some, it became so extreme that they tried to become “real-life” barbies.

As the public began to shatter these ideas after recognizing their negative effects, the demand for Mattel’s Barbies started to fall. The toy was being called out for the ideals of skin color and body type it promoted. According to Fortune, Barbie sales fell by 16 percent in 2014.

In response, Mattel announced in 2015 that it would release a new range of Barbie dolls with different skin colors and body types.

The “Fashionista” range, which debuted these new dolls, was a clear victory for the movement. The bestselling Barbie was Latina and plus-size, and Barbie sales rose 14 percent in 2016, Retaildive reported.

Barbie as a character has been moving into more professional spaces. Originally released as a housewife, she has moved into the corporate world, in addition to becoming an astronaut and a hairdresser.

But the new movie threatens to return Barbie to the past.

The casting of Robbie risks another movie being made about the same blonde, white, skinny girl that is over-represented in Hollywood.

Even though Mattel has made an effort to introduce new dolls, there remains a fundamental issue. They’re not Barbie; they’re simply variations of her. It’s the Barbie character who’s a global powerhouse, a household name, and having her star in another large production is just a solidification of that.

While casting is an issue, the basic flaw lies in the nature of Barbie as a character, which is so deeply rooted in her aesthetic appeal that to change her would be to change the character completely. Yet, a complete change in character is what is needed.

Another movie about Barbie just does more to validate the Hollywood dream girl; it places her, yet again, at the top of the hierarchy.


Tanvi Jhunjhunwala PO ’22 is from New Delhi, India, and she hates mac and cheese.

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