entertainment/pop culture

I Watched Barbie Drunk After the Gym

I saw Barbie last night, and early into the movie, I thought I would hate it. And I kind of did, but I kind of didn’t.


I wanted to rewatch Life-Size because I thought it would be the perfect antidote to Barbie, but it’s not available for streaming anywhere. Like, there wasn’t even an option to pay Amazon $4 to rent it. 


Parts of the movie remain blurry, but it’s about a Barbie-like doll that’s accidentally brought to life. When she first comes to life, she’s stupid and incompetent, and fails miserably at almost every job she tries to do. But she’s bubbly, likable, charismatic and feminine. She brings out the best in almost everyone she interacts with, and gives a makeover to a frumpy receptionist, boosting her confidence and helping her attract the attention of her work crush. The more time she spends in the real world, the more actual skills she learns and is able to apply. She’s no longer just a hot nice bimbo, but a woman with real thoughts and feelings she’s able to articulate. 


Life-Size didn’t teach girls to resent men, or to try to be men, or that their careers were all that mattered. It taught us that real women are never perfect, to embrace a balance between femininity and feminism, and that we could care about the way we looked without being vapid, and care about our careers without letting them run us ragged.


Again, I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I hoped that if Barbie was going to say something about women, that it would take a cue or two from this classic…but I don’t think that’s what happened.


I had seen other conservatives write it off as “woke” but I took their condemnations with a grain of salt. That word is thrown around so loosely and generously that I can’t take it seriously unless it’s coming from someone I know and trust. 


I’m hesitant to go to the political right for cultural insight or artistic criticism because in my opinion, a lot of the people on my side of the aisle lack humor, nuance, or vibrational discernment. 


So I headed to my local AMC with an open mind.


At first I found myself irritated. I don’t think of myself as the kind of person that sees something in media that challenges or even opposes my worldview and jumps to offense, but within the first five minutes of watching I felt like I was in a pinkwashed DNC ad. 


I knew that in this day and age, they’d have to make some gesture at inclusivity and intersectionality, and I had seen things online alluding to it. I really didn’t expect to care, but the choices to include a fat Barbie and a trans actor playing a Barbie bothered me more than I thought they would. Barbie is an ideal. She’s supposed to be inspirational and aspirational. There is nothing inspirational or aspirational about obesity or mental illness, and to me, both of these Barbies stuck out like sore thumbs and reminded me how lucky I was growing up in a time where I could consume media that cared more about saying something interesting than groveling to special interest groups. 


The movie starts off explaining that before Barbie, the only dolls that girls had to play with were ones that were training them for motherhood, and featured slow motion shots of young girls smashing their baby dolls. I decided to reserve my judgment at that scene, because I think that women actually do resent a lack of choice. Even with its questionable foundations and deceptive practices, the feminist movement wouldn’t have been so popular or successful if women at the time were happy with the way things were going. 


As a single woman on the right, I find myself frustrated and exhausted with conservatives and hard core traditionalists that insist women only exist to get married and give birth, or that a woman without these things is empty or “less than” or has wasted her life. They act as though women are incapable of finding purpose outside of a husband and kids and constantly belittle their achievements and positive contributions to society. I think the best, most fulfilling things that most people will ever do for themselves are get married and have kids, but I don’t think that’s all that gives life meaning.


I think there are a large share of conservatives that think women only have value as accessories to men, and the movie actually does a great job of showcasing that by reversing gender roles with the absurdity of Ken.


Even in the most liberal circles, it seems like so much of being a woman and interacting with other women revolves around men. Sometimes it seems like all we ever talk about or think about.



So a part of me actually appreciated the movie for flipping that dynamic on its head and using Ken as a mirror of our own behaviors, reminding me, and women everywhere, that we’re whole people that should have fully formed identities independent of our love lives.


All that said, I hated the way the movie treated the pregnant Barbie and motherhood as a whole. It seemed like they went out of their way to marginalize pregnant Barbie, and completely dismiss marriage and motherhood.


And you could argue that they were remaining loyal to the brand. I didn’t know this until recently, but Barbie’s creator actually went out of her way to never have Barbie get married or have children, because she didn’t want to reinforce marriage and motherhood as all that girls should aspire to.


But you could also argue that if you can make Barbie fat and trans, you can also make Barbie a wife and mother. I’d even go as far as saying most young girls today know that they can pursue any career they want to, and what we actually need more young girls to know is that it’s not just okay, but admirable, to dedicate their lives to their families if that’s what they feel called to do.


At the end of the movie, when Barbie is learning what it is to be a woman, there’s this beautiful, emotionally driven montage of vintage footage of women and unless I missed something, it didn’t include a single depiction of an obvious wife or mother.


Again, you could argue they’re just remaining loyal to their brand. But Barbie was supposed to teach young girls that their only options weren’t wife and mother – not shun those options or take them off the table completely.


I think there is a real and worthwhile conversation to be had about what it means to be a woman without defining it by giving birth or getting married.


But the truth is most women want to get married and most women want to have kids. Why should we deny this? Why should we downplay this? Can’t we be capable individuals and lovers and nurturers and cherish our relationships and families? Does it have to be one or the other? Isn’t implying that dichotomy inherently sexist?


Are you really interested in “empowering women” if you demand they ignore or suppress their most natural instincts?


A part of me feels like Barbie’s team was catering to a very specific brand of millennial women that define womanhood not as something beautiful, unique and biological, but as an opportunity to claim oppression and a bond formed through victimhood. It was written for women obsessed with being women but incapable of defining what a woman is.



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