Barbie’s 5 Lessons on Personal Evolution
I’ll have to admit, when Barbie first arrived on the movie scene this summer, I wasn’t the first in line to buy tickets. My first impression was that it was a great movie for my 10 and 13 year old daughters. It was only after several weeks, hearing from friends and reading reviews, that I realized, okay, maybe this is something I need to check out.
It turns out, Barbie wasn’t written for my daughters, it was written for me. On the surface it’s everything you would expect of Barbie from the amazing clothes and accessories to the bright colors and the Barbie dream house. And so much pink. According to the LA times, there was so much fluorescent pink paint used on the set of the movie that it worsened an already existing global supply shortage of the paint color. It's every girl's dream on the big screen.
But underneath the visual luster and nostalgia, you can find much more meaningful themes. Especially for its prime target audience born between the 60’s and 90’s. The most obvious themes are placed prominently front and center - feminism and inclusion. Barbie does a wonderful job of portraying the independent,successful, and intelligent woman who doesn’t need a Ken to feel worthy. My favorite - the all women Supreme Court. And then there’s the wonderfully diverse cast of Barbies and Kens, Weird Barbie and discontinued Barbie who all play important roles. (The only miss on that part I felt was developing the complex and relatable storyline of Gloria and Sasha played by America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt.)
Even deeper below the surface, there’s more…The themes that resonated most with me were the ones about life and personal evolution.
Life is Full of Possibilities
The Barbie doll marked a pivotal moment in toy making history. Unlike the baby doll, which was meant to groom little girls to take on their assumed motherhood roles, Barbie was aspirational and defied traditional social prescriptions for women in adulthood. With the help of Astronaut Barbie, Doctor Barbie or Gymnast Barbie, you could become anything within the stretch of your imagination. Somewhere along the way, beginning with the moment Barbie is forgotten in a toy box or given away to the neighbors kids, there’s a turning point in which we are no longer able to stretch our imaginations. We find reasons why we can’t be something or do something. It's these limiting beliefs that become our biggest roadblocks to reaching our full potential.
Feeling is Living
To be Barbie is to be forever happy and joyful. That is until one day Barbie asks a question never before asked in Barbie Land: “Do you ever think about death?” That moment marks the beginning of Barbie’s introduction to human emotion.The most bitter sweet moment comes when Barbie is trying to find her human playmate in the real world and while sitting on a bench she feels the sadness and disappointment not only of Gloria but the people around her in the park. With tears trickling down her face, she remarks “it feels good”. While no one wishes to be sad, it’s the range of human emotions that prove we are living.
Change is Evolution
When Barbie discovers cellulite on her thigh, then she knows something is gravely amiss. She consults with Weird Barbie to figure out how to stop all the strange feelings and things that have been happening to her. Weird Barbie tells her that the only way to fix it is to go to the human world and find out what is happening with her human playmate.
In her quest to restore things back to normal, changes can be seen to Barbie’s own physical appearance. In the beginning she’s always in costume and her face is always “camera ready”. By the end, she’s wearing a muted yellow dress and subtle hair and makeup. Her transformation symbolizes the nature of change - as uncomfortable as change is, cellulite and all, we evolve with it and become more authentic versions of ourselves.
Others Don’t Define You
In Barbie Land it's Ken who is portrayed as the confidence lacking character who only feels visible when Barbies pays attention to him. When Ken learns about patriarchy in the real world, he over compensates for his lack of self worth by adopting toxic masculinity - stallions, beer and pull up bars and all. Just as Barbie show’s Ken that the only thing that matters in the end is how you define yourself, you too can proudly wear the shirt that says “I am Kenough”.
Perfectionism is Futile
When Barbie first hit the toy shelves in 1959, she represented the epitome of the perfectionist ideal. A perfect body, blond hair and a wardrobe like no other. The movie makes good on this controversial image by naming the original Barbie “Stereotypical Barbie”. Then there’s Gloria’s monologue which will live on well past the movie’s cinema run as the rallying cry to forever rid ourselves of the perfectionist female ideal…because we will never live up to it, and that’s okay.
While watching Barbie I felt myself smiling and laughing at the very recognizable quips and visual representations of my childhood icon. But deeper than that was the very adult lesson that being human is filled with highs and lows and that personal evolution is what makes life worth living. Barbie was a needed reminder of possibility and that if we only use our imagination we can live a life that is limitless.
Rachel Vandenberg is a hotel owner and leadership coach. She has been co-owner of the Sun & Ski Inn and Suites, Stowe Bowl and Stowe Golf Park in Stowe, Vermont since 2012 and served as General Manager until 2023. In addition to her responsibilities as hotel owner, Rachel is the founder of The Travel Leader, a leadership content and coaching company. Rachel also sits on the board of her local destination marketing organization and founded a professional development retreat for women in travel called Accelerate Women Leaders in Travel. Outside of her career, she is a mom of three and loves to be in the woods on a bike or skis. Learn more at www.sunandskiinn.com, www.thetravelleadercoach.com and www.womenleadersintravel.com.