Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” is gearing up to be one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year. Starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, it may, at first glance, look like a live-action movie of the classic kid’s toy. But we’ve come a long way since the doll was first spotted on the shelves in 1959, and this “Barbie” film is challenging everything we’ve been sold before.
Alongside Robbie, the film’s trailer teases Dua Lipa, Sharon Rooney, Issa Rae, Nicola Coughlan, and Alexandra Shipp, among others, playing the multi-faceted Barbie, proving all sizes and races can and should be represented in leading-lady form. Without this diverse cast, I would never have agreed to my own Barbie makeover.
Like many, I’ve had a complicated relationship with the doll in the past. Sold to many of us as the “perfect” woman, Barbie was the epitome of one specific beauty ideal. White, tall, and slim, this blonde plastic toy cemented a belief of what it meant to be beautiful, and this look was only underscored in pop culture. Cher from “Clueless,” Regina George from “Mean Girls,” Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde,” and even Sophie from “Mamma Mia,” all echo Barbie in similar ways. So it’s unsurprising that, at the age of 13, I was measuring my own body against a life size Barbie chart, heartbroken that only my feet fit the mould.
“I can’t help but wonder whether growing up with Barbie has meant the aesthetic is ingrained in my subconscious.”
Now, nearly twice that age, the allure of looking like Barbie has worn off — but not completely disappeared. While I have lost hope of growing an extra four inches and understand that a 16-inch waist would leave room for only half a liver and only a few inches of intestine (for reference, a UK size 6 measures a 25.5-inch waist), I can’t help but wonder whether growing up with Barbie has meant the aesthetic is ingrained in my subconscious. Perhaps, deep down, it’s why I balayage my hair blonde and only like the look of my hands with long, painted nails, my skin when it’s tanned, and my feet when in high heels.
Being white, slim, and with said balayage blonde hair, I’m acutely aware I look more like the OG Barbie than many and can’t profess to understand the layers of unease for those who don’t see themselves in the blonde hair, blue-eyed model at all. Mattel did diversify the doll in 1980 with both a Black and Hispanic Barbie, and in 2016 it introduced different body-shaped Barbies, and there are now over 170 different Barbies spanning race, size, and ability.
But in many ways, the aesthetic remains threaded across all iterations. Barbie is perfectly preened, she loves the colour pink, and she oozes an unparalleled confidence in her own skin. So perhaps Barbie, in all her forms, is onto something?
“Barbie is perfectly preened, she loves the colour pink, and she oozes an unparalleled confidence in her own skin. So perhaps Barbie, in all her forms, is onto something?”
It’s hard not to get caught up in Barbiecore as the buzz surrounding the film’s release on 21 July builds. But as someone whose fuss-free wardrobe, minimal makeup, and basic routine couldn’t be further from the glamorous pink-loving Barbie’s, I thought it could be fun to spend the day as the doll that plagued my childhood with unrealistic expectations. Would a Barbie get-the-look empower me or leave me with the ick?
Yes, the makeover was OTT. Yes, it’s not sustainable on a daily basis. And yes, the cutesy dress code plays into gender stereotypes. However, the makeover emphasised the importance of taking time out to truly focus on myself. Beauty is a form of self-care and, as I relaxed into the routine of being pampered, the stress from my real life on a brief pause, my mood shifted from nervous to quietly confident to actually enjoying the attention.
The accentuated result may have been cartoon-like, but I felt like the main character in my own life again, not someone standing on the sidelines watching it breeze past at a rapid rate. It meant taking time to focus on me put me back in the driving seat rather than prioritising work or what other people need from me. And I think that’s what Barbie is all about (with or without the fake nails and blowdrys). Being Barbie is a feeling, no longer solely about one’s physical appearance, and we could all
probably benefit from some added inner confidence to feel more fabulous. After all, who wants to be just Ken?
Whether you want to recreate the look for your “Barbie” watch parties or take elements of her aesthetic, keep reading to see how I became Barbie for a day.
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