‘Barbie’ doesn’t shy away from the doll’s complicated legacy

Barbie means different things to different people. In the film, she is a reminder that it is good to be human.
Arts & Culture


Directed by Greta Gerwig (Warner Bros., 2023)

My mom worked as a toy illustrator at Mattel in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When I was little, Barbie was naturally part of life in our Los Angeles condo. When I created and imagined stories, I did it with my Barbies.

As I grew up I became more aware of Barbie’s complicatedness, how everyone has their own ideas and opinions about her. In the new Barbie movie, that complicated legacy is central to Barbie’s journey of discovering why she exists.

When Barbie (Margot Robbie) starts having thoughts of death in pop-pink Barbie Land, she must enter the real world and make things right with the girl who plays with her.

So Barbie and Ken (Ryan Gosling) roll into Venice Beach in their neon yellow rollerblades and immediately discover patriarchy. Ken feels admired for the first time, and Barbie feels undertones of violence all around. Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), the girl Barbie came looking for, tells Barbie that she represents the worst of capitalist consumerism and objectification of women: “You’re a fascist!” she yells. Barbie cries. Barbie sees an old woman for the first time and finds her beautiful.


Ken tries to establish patriarchy in Barbie Land. After an existential meltdown, Barbie sets out to undo it with the help of Sasha’s mom (America Ferrera), a Mattel employee. They get all of the Barbies to name and speak truth to their reality and experiences under patriarchy.

Barbie felt like a tender ode to the sacredness of girlhood and made me feel seen for the ways I’ve grown up having to navigate a hostile world. Barbie and Ken confront the pressure to be exceptional and how we feel replaceable if we aren’t. After a moment of self-realization, Ken wears a tie-dye sweatshirt that says: “I am Kenough.” Barbie learns that knowing and naming one’s worth, especially in the ordinary, is true resiliency. The film is a reminder that it’s good to be human.

This article also appears in the September 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 9, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Warner Bros.