Barbie: From Classic Doll to Feminist Film Icon

Dahlila Esparza, Staff Writer

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Barbie is no longer plastic, she’s here living in the real world. 

Many young girls go to the movies expecting to see strong male protagonists fighting bad guys, something that the media is oversaturated in. But this July, girls will wander into the theater and see a familiar face; radiant, flawless, chic, and glamorous.  Kids everywhere look up to her. I recall a time in my childhood when I was playing with her doll for the first time. At the moment, I didn’t quite grasp how influential it was for me to be able to choose a darker-skinned doll with kinky hair, one who looked identical to me.  Now I see the significance of having diversity. My doll counterpart allowed me to feel confident and proud of who I was, while simultaneously inspiring me to be more. The doll allowed me to envision my future with a wildly successful career, a caring family, a gorgeous home, and a dedicated husband. For the first time in my young life, I was enthusiastic about the future and full of optimism about my life. I wanted nothing more than to reach my dreams, just like barbie. This is not a unique story, this is a reality for countless young girls. The first 1959 commercial for the doll displayed the catchphrase “Someday, I’ll be just like you, till then, I know just what I’ll do. Barbie, I’ll make believe that I am you.” This rings true almost 60 years later, with barbie influence reaching more children than ever due to the new upcoming Barbie movie. The first live-action adaptation of this iconic and inspirational franchise is momentous for children across the globe. 

But, as iconic as Barbie is, she has struggled to remain applicable and culturally acceptable due to new societal norms and “cancel culture”. Barbie has been in the middle of many controversies since society has rebranded her into a “bimbo” [a woman who lacks personality and intelligence]. But the new barbie movie, directed by Greta Gerwig [the director of many other feminist pieces such as Lady Bird and the Little Women re-boot] and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, wants to change all of society’s preconceived notions about barbie. Along with many other widely held prejudiced beliefs about feminine women that Barbie is combating.  Gerwig is making it her duty to bring a new wave of feminism to this contemporary digital generation. 


The film is set in “Barbieland,” a vibrant society with Kens and Barbies. Ryan Gosling stays true to Ken’s character, donning a witless, naive, yet loyal and affectionate attitude. While Ken yearns for the real world, Barbie detests it and is content with her life in Barbieland. Gerwig’s film becomes a ” fish out of water” type comedy when Ken and Barbie venture into the real world, leaving Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrell) to go after the iconic dolls. 


Production of the iconic film began in September 2009, when it was revealed that Mattel had signed a partnership to develop the movie with Sony. It would take 2 years and innumerable team rewrites to perfect the Barbie script, but the plot was well worth the wait. The final script had a plus-size Barbie (played by Amy Schumer) who was rejected from Barbieland for being an imperfect doll. In her travel to the real world, Schumer’s Barbie uncovers the importance of self-love and renounces societal beauty standards. Although this sounds like a touching film about body positivity and welcoming differences, Schumer dropped the project due to (as she stated) “scheduling conflicts”. However, In 2022, Schumer disclosed to The Hollywood Reporter that the true reason had to do with creative differences. “They definitely didn’t want to do it the way I wanted to do it, the only way I was interested in doing it,” she remarked. 

In the frantic search for a new lead woman to fill the large shoes of the iconic Blondie, Sony tried to get Anne Hathaway, amongst many other, lesser-known actresses. However, when sony’s copyright expired, it transferred to Warner Bros. Pictures, and with them in charge, Margot Robbie was immediately cast. Robbie had big ideas for the role right away and wanted to film to defy any preconception of Barbie. “Something like Barbie…people immediately have an idea of, Oh, Margot is playing Barbie, I know what that is, but our goal is to be like, Whatever you’re thinking, we’re going to give you something totally different — the thing you didn’t know you wanted.” The Hollywood Reporter 2022


For decades, countless films have subtly villainized overly feminine girls, either over-sexualizing them or portraying them as meek and idiotic. The negative conceptions that surround femininity are seriously toxic to young girls and can generate deep-rooted feelings of resentment toward other women, which often manifest itself in harmful ways. By promoting racial, body, and most importantly, female positivity with their dolls and media, Barbie is guiding a new generation of extraordinary women, a unique generation of trailblazers who will develop technology and art, find cures for diseases, produce new fashion trends, teach our grandchildren, govern our countries, and accomplish things beyond our wildest imaginations. To these women of the future, to the women with which we’re leaving our planet, a quick word from me and barbieYou can be anything, so be it. 


Bff: Barbie fun facts

  1. Barbie ran for President in the 90s (before a woman had ever tried to run for president) 
  2. Barbie has been the face of Mattel for over 60 years. 
  3. There have been over 1 billion Barbies sold. 
  4. The first Barbie doll sold for $3. 
  5. Barbie didn’t always don her iconic pink getup (so iconic in fact that the color has been dubbed “barbie pink” Patone 219 C is the exact shade) the first doll was featured in a black and white swimsuit 
  6. Barbie has had over 200 careers (and counting) 
  7. A belly button was added to the doll 40 years after her initial release, in 2000
  8. She was created by an engineer who used to work for the Pentagon (he specialized in creating new innovative technology for the doll) 
  9. Barbie and Ken were named after the creator’s kids; Barbra and Kenneth