Barbie power at the movies: The idea, the movement, the doll, the clothes
Culture, Op/Eds, U.S. & World

Barbie power at the movies: The idea, the movement, the doll, the clothes

Rebecca Barnabi
“Barbie” is the highest grossing movie of 2023 and has been in movie theaters since July 21. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

A couple months ago, I read Vogue’s interview of actress Margot Robbie and the film “Barbie,” but did not really think about whether I would see the movie.

A few friends saw it and posted on Facebook and I still did not think about whether I wanted to see it.

Then a friend posted last week that she was going to see it Wednesday night and anyone else who had not seen “Barbie” was welcome to join her. So, I went.

And now I can’t stop thinking about the fact I saw the movie about Barbie.

I’ve previously written about how I grew up a tomboy. However, I did have several Barbies. They played with my brother’s Army men and action figures on many occasions when we were children.

What I learned from seeing the Barbie movie was that my Barbies had more of an influence on me than I ever realized. Their message was subtle but clear every day: as a girl, I could be whoever I wanted. Stereotypical, doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, writer.

I’m sure you understand which one I picked. Ironically, one of my Barbies had a home office. In the 1980s. She had a home office. Long before a global pandemic made remote work and working from home appealing, my Barbie worked from home.

And now I do too. I remember her home office had a little white telephone, because I remember having her hold it in one hand to her ear.

One of my other Barbies had a horse, and a trailer to transport the horse.

Another Barbie wore fancy evening gowns.

I discovered a love for clothes and doing hair because of my Barbies.

Barbie showed me what today is called “girl power.” But if you had asked me as a child, I would not have been able to verbally explain to you what she meant to me.

As an adult in her 40s, after seeing the Barbie movie, I can verbalize it for you.

Barbie taught me I do not need a boyfriend or a man, even when the message I received from my grandmothers was that I did. I did not have to have children in order to have value in American society. As a woman, I would already have value no matter what profession I chose or where I lived.

I’m not surprised now that it’s 2023’s top grossing movie.

Because Barbie never did anything halfway when I was in her world. And she expected me never to do anything halfway.

After seeing the movie the other night, I left the movie theater with my friends who were dressed up in pink to celebrate the movie. I had put a lot of thought into what I would wear that evening, because I was excited for a chance to have a drink downtown with gal friends and see a movie.

Sounds a lot like something Barbie would do, doesn’t it?

But I had not thought to wear pink. I wore a new blue-and-white-striped blouse with puffy sleeves and blue sandals, which later I realized look a lot like a pair one of my Barbies had when I was a child. As a child, I never wore anything with puffy sleeves. I was thrilled later in the movie when Robbie wears a blue and white dress.

I drove home in my red car, which I bought two years ago, and several friends have said looks sporty and just like my kind of car. Sounds like a Barbie car, doesn’t it? My Barbies had a pink convertible.

I still enjoy clothes and doing hair.

Barbie must be why.

I keep referring to my Barbies in past tense, but the truth is, I still have them. My mom sold her house three years ago and I made sure to bring them to Staunton with some other childhood items. The Barbie with evening gowns is a collector’s item.

I haven’t brought any of them out to play with like America Ferrara’s character does in the movie.

I don’t have to. They already taught me what their creator intended.

Thank you, Ruth. Ideas do live longer than humans.

Writing does too.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.