Column: Barbie and women in film

Written by on February 7, 2024

By Ryah Klima / Opinion Editor

In my visual communications class last week, we discussed visual association. I gave a short (but passionate) speech about the importance of Barbie in my life. In response, someone said, “You’re such a girl.”

And you know what? They’re right. I am such a girl.

My mom primarily raised me, and I saw my dad on weekends. My girlhood was just that: girlhood. A big part of that girlhood was Barbie. The iconic Barbie 1986 Dreamhouse was given to my mom when she was a little girl, and then it was passed down to me after her.

I have a lot of memories with that dollhouse. I played with it at my grandma’s house, before it moved to my house.  Eventually, I thought that I was “too old” for Barbies, but I played with them for the sake of my sister, who inherited the Dreamhouse from me. Today, it sits in the storage room attached to my younger sister’s bedroom, well-loved and maybe a little worn down.

The 1986 Barbie Dreamhouse wasn’t the only major ‘Barbie-centric’ object in my life. I grew up watching movies like “The Princess and The Pauper”, “Barbie: Fashion Fairytale”, and “Barbie as the Island Princess”. I’ve probably seen every animated Barbie movie that’s come out between 2001 and 2016 at least once.

I also have vivid memories of when my sister and I had a plethora of medical problems on our plate. We would watch “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse” in the back of the car rides to Kansas City for doctor appointments. It often played when we did our IVIG infusions on our couch. We watched that show a lot, even the same episodes multiple times, because it was her favorite at the time. While we always had our mom in our corner, we had Barbie in our corner too.

I remember which movies I begged my mom to get the dolls from, and every time, she would get me them. When she bought me my first bike, it was Barbie themed. When my dad bought me my first fishing pole, it was Barbie themed too. 

My mom planted the seed when she gave me her old dollhouse, and then continued to nurture my love for Barbie well into my teens. Even now, she buys me Barbie-themed items on occasion. My mom, my sister and I all have matching Barbie sweatshirts.

We wore those very sweatshirts to Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” this summer.

Photo by Ryah Klima / My mom (left), me (center) and my sister Laila (right) in our matching Barbie sweatshirts

The cinematic masterpiece of a film deserves all the hype it gets. It easily was one of my top movies of 2023. It made me feel like I was a little girl again. I was excited to go see a movie about my favorite toys from my girlhood. But “Barbie” was so much more than that.

“Barbie” is a reminder to girls around the world to show just what we are made for: anything. Watching my childhood doll experience the real world, the world that I grew into as I grew away from my dolls, was a sobering and melancholy experience. Yet, I found it empowering.

In America Ferrera’s monologue, I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt understood. Suddenly, all the struggles I was facing in my girlhood with my self-esteem and body image and boys and just existing as a woman were vocalized. It was presenting the transition from girlhood (Barbieland) to womanhood (the real world). And I found myself crying in the theater. My mom and my sister were shedding tears too. It was a film that laid out life as a woman, and it laid out the nitty gritty of that life in shades of bright pink.

Although “Barbie” laid out the nitty gritty: the harassment, the body image issues, the gender inequality that surrounds many aspects of life… it also showed the beauty of girlhood, and subsequently, womanhood. It shows a loss of innocence but finds the beauty in that loss. 

Barbie, both the 2023 film and the doll that’s been around for nearly 65 years, are meant to inspire women and girls alike. I know that without a doubt, I wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t grow up with Barbie in my life.

This award season, the film was up for a whopping 388 awards. So far, it has won 109 of those awards.

However, as the 2023 film awards season comes to an end, I find myself disappointed with the list of Oscars nominees. I also find myself disappointed with the treatment of Barbie at the Golden Globes.

The Academy Awards (commonly known as the Oscars) is an annual celebration of film. It’s no secret that the film industry has some biases, and it’s not hard to find traces of sexism in its midst. It’s no secret that “Barbie” aimed to break down those kinds of ideals and barriers with its anti-sexism, pro-woman story. Even though the movie was well received by audiences around the world, it seems the message has been missed by some people.

Jo Koy, for instance. Koy, who hosted the Golden Globes, made a dig at “Barbie”, stating, “’Oppenheimer’ is based on a 721-page Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Manhattan project, and ‘Barbie’ is on a plastic doll with big boobies!” This joke was met with unamused looks from every single person the camera crew showed in the audience, and most of the audience watching from home also felt a general sense of disdain at the joke. And honestly? The joke kind of proved the point of the film. Women are often seen as the butt of the joke.

“Barbie” is up for several Oscars. However, several of the most memorable snubs involve the awards “Barbie” isn’t up for.

Margot Robbie, who produced and portrayed the iconic titular Barbie, is technically up for an award involving the production in the ‘Best Picture’ category. However, she didn’t snag a nomination for ‘Actress in a Leading Role’. I find this disheartening, because Robbie’s portrayal of Barbie is a crucial part of this film. However, it is a win in my book that America Ferrera is up for ‘Actress in a Supporting Role’, considering the impact of her monologue alone.

As I sit here in my baby pink sweatshirt that reads ‘written and directed by Greta Gerwig’, I find myself disappointed that she’s not being acknowledged for the ‘Directing’ category. I feel that “Barbie” was a monumental movie, and the Oscars are a monumental achievement. Women in film have notoriously been snubbed in this category of the Academy Awards, with a whopping total of eight women ever being in the running for the ‘Directing’ award. This goes to show that women directors can often be overlooked at the Oscars. Although Greta Gerwig isn’t in the running for best director, there is one female up this year, which should be celebrated.

Mattel is celebrating all women in film this year, with the Barbie ‘career of the year’ being film. They’ve released four new dolls, including a director/screenwriter, actress, studio executive, and camerawoman.

I hope that no matter what, Greta Gerwig continues to relish in the success of “Barbie”. Whether it be through physical awards or the positive impact she’s made on girls and women across the world. Maybe someday, my name will roll across the credits of a movie that becomes a box-office success. But for now, I’ll stick to writing articles and making my voice heard.

No matter where I end up, I hope that someday, I can be just as good at my craft as Greta Gerwig is at hers. 

But what do I know? I’m just a girl, after all.

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