Barbie and Ken - a love(?) story I never thought would make such a comeback. Personally and professionally I was so excited to see the movie given my long standing love-hate relationship with Barbie. While I enjoyed playing with them occasionally, as a young girl I also resented that a Barbie was always considered the suitable gift for me, instead of a Lego set or Hotwheels! Afterall, I could imagine myself racing in a fast car but I could never imagine myself fitting into the perfect Barbie land.
As I grew up, my relationship with Barbie got even more complicated. I became more aware of the impact Barbie’s representation could have on young children and teens. Researchers found that less than 1 in 1,00,000 adult women have the probability of having Barbie’s proportions. Ken was found to be more realistic. They also found that if the life size version of Barbie was compared to a reference group of women in treatment for Anorexia Nervosa, her waist would be 20cm smaller.
So watching this movie meant observing everything carefully and unpacking it all for Freed’s community. I walked out of that movie theatre feeling nostalgic, pensive and a little critical. Here’s why:
The Ghost of Cellulite
Cellulite is a tricky topic in this thinness and smooth skin obsessed world. While the movie gave a subtle hint of irony while expressing Barbie’s shock and fear at some cellulite creeping up her thigh, those feelings are VERY real for most people.
“It’ll spread and then you’ll be sad”, “I’m weirded out by cellulite”, “What’s ugly will become uglier” and many such references made their way into Barbie land dialogue.
I understand that some of this was for comic relief, and that they tried to close the loop by claiming “normal Barbie” had cellulite, stretch marks and other more human tendencies. But for our audience, I must reiterate: From Bollywood to Hollywood and everyone else in between, cellulite is a part of everyone’s life. Body acceptance is a consistent and deliberate effort, so you may not feel terrific about your cellulite today but you can acknowledge that it doesn’t determine your worth one bit.
Inclusion or Tokenism?
Inclusion has become quite a colloquial term - for people, organisations, art and so much more. But we dive into Barbie’s approach to inclusion, I want to clarify what we mean by inclusion. An article I read recently summarises it perfectly: diversity is understanding, accepting and respecting differences, while inclusion embraces all people as equals, despite those differences.
I would say, Barbie celebrates diversity in many ways: backgrounds, professions, race! But when it came to our favorite subject, body representation, I would say Barbie missed the mark. I would consider the one over-sized barbie to be a sign of tokenism and not inclusion. Every single other Barbie, and every single Ken, essentially has the same body type: tall, lean and perfectly smooth.
So, no matter how much Mattel would like us to believe that Barbie and Ken are just like us, they’re not! We come in all shapes and sizes, and until Barbie can find a way to represent those differences, I refuse to accept that it’s “inclusive”.
Safe for kids?
In summary, not without a thought through dialogue. If you’re like me and want to enjoy a nostalgic “kidulting” moment, Barbie’s a fun watch. But if you’re going to take your young, impressionable children to watch the movie, I highly recommend explaining to them some of the concepts the film covers. Not just cellulite and diversity, but also patriarchy and
Barbie covers several themes, suitable for a wide audience, and it must be given credit for that. For someone taking a moment to articulate patriarchy for the first time, Barbie surely provides a humour-led, less intimidating way! The same goes for objectification of women, self-acceptance, codependency etc.