Fans arrive to see "Barbie" on 20 July 2023 at a theater in Los Angeles. EFE/Monica Rubalcava

More than just a doll: New hit film underscores Barbie’s cultural impact

By Monica Rubalcava

Movie-goers pose for photos on 20 July 2023 outside a theater in Los Angeles showing the new film "Barbie." EFE/Monica Rubalcava

Los Angeles, Jul 21 (EFE).- Barbie has been accused by many of perpetuating impossible beauty standards, yet others insist she has promoted female empowerment and had a positive influence on young girls.

A young movie-goer poses for a photo on 20 July 2023 outside a theater in Los Angeles showing the new film "Barbie." EFE/Monica Rubalcava

But love her or hate her, the new live-action film on Mattel’s iconic product, “Barbie,” has already made one thing crystal clear: she is more than just a doll.

Andrea, who like many fellow movie-goers wore a Barbie-inspired outfit to see the new feminist comedy at a theater in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Beverly Hills, said she was just four years old when her parents gave her a 1985 business-executive Barbie known as “Day to Night.”

That version of the famed blonde doll with a slender frame and narrow waist was an accomplished professional during the day before going out and having fun in the evenings with friends.

In an interview with Efe just moments before entering the theater to see the new film starring Margot Robbie and directed by Greta Gerwig, the 42-year-old woman said there are similarities between her childhood doll’s work-hard, play-hard spirit and her own lifestyle now.


Ray, 24, attended one of the first screenings of “Barbie” along with two of her friends. She said that “Barbie Swan Lake” was the version of the doll that had the biggest impact on her personally.

“I grew up with Barbie … I love the cast. (The film) looks a little bit gay, which I’m excited about. It’s pink. There’s dance numbers. I mean, I love Greta Gerwig. I’m excited about the whole thing!” the young woman said.

For 36-year-old Sahira, Barbie transmits “happiness” and encourages people to “dream big,” while drag queen Sage Zariah said she has taken to heart the doll’s message about being whomever you want to be.

“There’s so many different Barbies. They inspire you to be whoever you want to be. Like me, right now, I’m Pop Star Barbie. I can be Princess Barbie. I can be any kind of Barbie I want to be,” Zariah told Efe.


But according to Claire Sisco, a communications studies professor at Vanderbilt University, Barbie’s cotton-candy world has not always been so inclusive and empowering for women.

She notes that the doll was launched in 1959 by Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler in a male-dominated society, and that even today women inhabit a world in which no matter how successful and professional they are, they still are expected to be pretty as well.

The message women receive – and that Barbie promotes – is that beauty is equally as important as creative or intellectual aspirations, Sisco said.

She added, however, that Gerwig’s film and the new lines of Barbie dolls that Mattel has launched, including ones with different body types and physical conditions, are helping to promote the social inclusion of marginalized groups.

Tammy, a 54-year-old fan who collects African-American versions of Barbie and Ken, says for her part that there are now dolls with more curvy figures and different skin colors and even special-needs versions of the toy.

Psychologist Yalda T. Uhls, founding director of the Center for Scholars & Storytellers at the University of California at Los Angeles, said it is important to recognize that toys are more than simple objects.

They teach kids about the ways of the world, she said, noting that dolls serve as substitutes for real people and are used by children as a practice ground for future human interactions.


Lexi, 28, said she is rather indifferent to Barbie because she never had one of those dolls as a young girl.

Wearing a T-shirt with the name “Greta Gerwig,” she said her main motivation in going to the theater was to see the latest film by her favorite director.

She stressed the importance of supporting a picture in which different sizes, genders and identities are represented.

Spending money on those types of movies is a way for movie-goers to “make demands of the corporations that create (content),” she said.

Gerwig’s film shows it is possible to have “diverse Barbies in body size and in gender identity and in race … maybe we can have all these different things that represent us all.”

“And I hope that this is a way to demand that by saying, ‘we’re giving you our money. We want to see it. We love to see it.’ And I hope that Barbie becomes something that everyone associates with,” Lexi added.

In the film, Gerwig explores the “love-hate” relationship between society and Barbie.

According to Sisco, the director is using the history of the doll to question patriarchal norms about who a woman should be and what gender is.

So far, the creative talents of Gerwig and her cast and crew – along with a massive marketing push and huge social media buzz surrounding the film – have paid big dividends.

Made with a production budget of $145 million, “Barbie” is expected to take in between $95 million and $110 million in box-office revenue at North American theaters alone in its opening weekend. EFE