February 11, 2022 | OPINION | By Katey Grealish
In another universe, I am a film studies major, and I specialize in the scholarly study of Barbie movies.
For those unfamiliar, the Barbie brand not only sells dolls, books, and tiny doll furniture, but also has its own cinematic universe. On social media, I’ve seen a recent spike in appreciation for Barbie movies. It’s clear that many people, including myself, have taken to re-watching their favorite doll actress with the extra free time granted by the pandemic.
As I watched one of my old favorite Barbie movies, I remembered feeling so ashamed of liking these movies. I once watched one in secret to avoid the shame. The patriarchy is, of course, behind this. Girls are gifted Barbie dolls and Barbie movies and therefore grow an attachment to them, only to be taught almost simultaneously that the hyper-femininity celebrated in this universe should be scorned and laughed at.
Thus, I present my thesis: Barbie movies are good, and they have many merits that go uncelebrated. Before I discuss that, though, I want to make a note that there are valid arguments against the Barbie Cinematic Universe and the Barbie brand in general.
While it is true that in all these movies the hero is always a thin, able-bodied, white woman, I want to focus on the critiques surrounding the broader feminine aspect of these movies. After all, I feel that many Barbie naysayers are not concerned with issues of representation but instead take issue with the amount of pink shown, in addition to possessing concerns over the female-to-male ratio.
I want to start my praise by directly addressing the masculine agitators who try to claim Barbie movies are “girlish” or “self-centered” and therefore valueless. Barbie movies are rarely violent, unlike a lot of movies young boys are encouraged to watch – think Marvel. I would even argue that the messages of many Barbie movies are better than those of Marvel movies and ones like it.
When I watched “Iron Man”, I finished the movie knowing that if I was a rich engineer-entrepreneur who could deliver a few snappy one-liners and blow some stuff up, I could save the world. When I watched “Barbie and the Diamond Castle”, I learned about the power of female friendship. Rarely in these movies is there a prominent male love interest, and he never single-handedly saves the day. Ken, if he’s there, is usually Barbie’s accessory. How do you like it now boys?
Barbie movies are a celebration of femininity: the hero is almost always a hyper-feminine woman clad in pinks and purples who might also happen to be a ballerina, a fairy, or a princess (you get the gist). All of these “girly” things are either never addressed, normalizing for young viewers that heroes can wear beautiful dresses and enjoy singing or dressing, or these qualities come to their strength.
This is evident in “Barbie as Rapunzel,” when the protagonist uses her talent and love for painting to defeat the villain.
I have a lot to thank Barbie movies for. I started dancing when I was three and haven’t stopped, and this brings me so much joy in life. I think “Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses,” my personal favorite, played a major role in developing that passion.
Re-watching the movies as a nineteen-year-old allows me to further embrace my femininity and helps me unpack the ways I’ve been told to hate it. I must admit that I’m certainly looking at it with rose-colored glasses, but I can’t help but be in awe of the movies that shaped me into the woman I am today.