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We Can be Barbies too: Why Representation Matters, Especially in the Barbieverse

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

Content created ahead of the SAG-AFTRA Strikes, we stand with the American actors' union and the Writers Guild of America who are fighting Hollywood labour disputes.

After a long year of anticipation, the day Barbie is released in cinemas has finally arrived. 

While we’re buzzing with excitement, during this waiting period a space has been created for a different kind of discussion beyond the fantasy that is the Barbie doll world. 

Let's talk about representation, shall we?

Representation in the media, until recently, was either non-existent or seen as negative, stereotypical representation that incited hatred. 

As representation increased, it allowed just one group of people or just one culture to be present in one space at a time. Token diversity, some may say. 

Today though, although not perfect, representation is constantly expanding and maturing.

Barbie has been a product aimed mainly at children since 1959, created for the daughter of the doll's creator, Ruth Handler. 

Since then, Barbie has had more than 200 jobs over the past 70 years - the most recent of which were largely in STEM. 

She has led many lives. Some Barbies are queer, others have a disability…their bodies are starting to differ and their features are becoming more and more suited to the different ethnicities and races they are supposed to represent.

And here, then, the discussion of representation in Barbie opens up. 

We have actors with Eurocentric features and who fall into the gender norms, yes, but more than that, there are characters of colour who don't represent a stereotype. (See Issa Rae as President Barbie and Alexandra Shipp as Writer Barbie). 

We have queer and transgender actors whose stories are not defined by their identity (See Hari Nef as Doctor Barbie). 

The film also features Latinax characters (See America Ferrera as Gloria) and actors from Asian descent (See Ritu Arya as reporter Barbie and Simu Liu as one of the Kens), and even a star of Balkan descent - which is so rare - (See Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie).

And, importantly, there are plus-size people representing Barbie, the perfect girl, too (Nicola Coughlan as Diplomat Barbie and Sharon Rooney as Lawyer Barbie). 

Now, to discuss the elephant in the room, there comes a pregnant question: why does this representation matter in a fictional film like Barbie?

Barbie is everything and somehow she is also nothing at the same time, giving children the chance to project whatever story they want her to represent. 

That's the whole point! 

Young people, especially those who are still in their formative years, need positive and non-stereotypical representations in order to form healthy views about their appearance, sexuality, gender identity, and even their cultural, racial and ethnic background.

We need to not only accept and promote films like Barbie, but also to emulate this formula going forward. 

If we continue to make room for both open discussion and the creation of these diverse characters, young people can grow up to truly believe they can do anything - because they can.

From the perspective of someone who grew up in the Y2K era with films like Clueless (1995), Legally Blonde (2001) and Mean Girls (2004), it's not only refreshing to see someone who looks like most girls in my country in a film I know I would have loved as a child. 

Society is made up of complex people with equally complex stories who come from different communities, cultures and worlds. 

The Barbie universe has, for the most part, allowed many children to feel represented in recent years (take this with a pinch of salt) and now the Barbie movie is solidifying that diversity.

This representation we keep talking about is as important for us as it's for the 10-year-olds whose souls are falling apart, bit by bit, every time they realise they are not represented in the media, not seen, not heard. 

Barbie allows all young people who feel out of place to be able to be and do anything they wish for whilst looking exactly as they do - and truly that is all that matters.

Edited by Emily Duff


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