Girlies unite! The time is almost upon us for the cinema release of the century,
Oppenheimer Barbie! The feature-length film, directed by the absolute girlboss Greta Gerwig, who’s brought us such gems as Ladybird and Little Women, is hitting UK cinemas on July 21st. It promises to be fabulous, with even just a frame of Barbie’s (Margot Robbie) iconic foot in the trailer causing mass internet hysteria. Delightful behind the scenes’ set revelations have been popping up, one saying that so much pink paint was used on the set that it actually caused a global shortage! Before we visit Barbieland, come on Barbie let’s go party and take a look back at how a smalltown doll named Barbara Millicent Rogers became the woman who is everything.
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic.
In March 1959, our beloved Barb was launched onto the world’s stage by Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel Inc. Handler realised that if her daughter wanted to play, she had very limited options. With dolls, the only options at the time were baby dolls or adult paper ones. She decided that she was going to corner the market with this niche and therefore Barbie was born! After buying the rights to a racy German toy for men, Bild Lilli, Handler reused the concept, renaming the toy after her daughter Barbara and made Barbie 11 inches tall with legs for days, a sassy high blonde ponytail and some saucy red lipstick. She wore a (now iconic) black and white striped swimming costume and little black stilettos, forcing her feet to remain in a high arch permanently, which was a legacy feature that has lasted since.
Handler wanted Barbie to reflect the glamour of the era she was in, mimicking the most beautiful female celebrities of the time, so she was initially based off the likenesses of classic Hollywood bombshells like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. As Barbie has developed throughout the 64 years since, she has begun to match the likenesses of popular celebrities in the respective decades they gained fame in. In 1967, the first celebrity Barbie was created, and the supermodel Twiggy was added to the Barbie universe. Since then many more diverse and powerhouse celebrity Barbies have hit the stores including Beyoncé, JLo, Laverne Cox, Joan Jett and even Cyndi Lauper! Barbie was an instant hit in 1959 with 300,000 units of Barbie being sold in the first year alone.
One small step for Barbie, one giant leap for Barbkind.
If you thought that Neil Armstrong was the first to reach the moon, you’d be sorely mistaken! Barbie shot for the stars in 1965, 4 years before NASA got there. According to Mattel, Barbie has an impressive CV covering over 200 jobs. Barbie has been literally everything, including a rapper, an Avon representative, a lute player, a beekeeper and even a matador. Barbie has run for president 6 times and won many a presidential campaign – slay.
Life in plastic, not so fantastic.
Since her creation, Barbie has been the subject of many a controversy. Critics of the doll argued that her tiny waist, long legs and supermodel body created an unrealistic standard for young women, Barbie’s target audience. In 1994, a Finnish scientific study into Barbie’s features found that if Barbie were a real woman, she would be too slim to menstruate. Following this study and the twenty or so years of backlash, Mattel changed Barbie’s body, widening her waist, shrinking her breasts and giving her a slightly more realistic body standard. This was well-received and young Barbie fans today are much more likely to find a doll that looks like them. In 2016, Mattel released 3 new body sizes for the doll: petite, tall and curvy. Barbies are now depicting many races, skin tones, body sizes and even disabilities, so little girls are able to find a doll that they can relate to.
Embrace your Kenergy.
In 1961, the world was introduced to Ken Carson – Barbie’s on again/ off again boyfriend. Despite their relationship spanning over 60 years, Barbie never let her relationship with Ken define her, with the pair even taking a seven-year break. With the new film release, the marketing surrounding Barbie has been “She’s everything, he’s just Ken.” Subverting the classic film trope of women as accessories. Female characters take centre stage and Ryan Gosling, the actor who is playing Ken is clearly having the time of his life and has no qualms with playing second fiddle to Margot Robbie’s Barbie. We all need a partner who is as supportive as Ken, and we love him for it.
Barbie on the
silver pink screen
In anticipation for the upcoming film, Barbie has already had some wild headlines including being banned from being shown in Vietnam and being in direct competition with another huge film opening the same weekend. Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s bombastic film about Robert J Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb is arguably Barbie’s direct opposite and both will be vying for film of the year in an event fans have dubbed ‘Barbenheimer’.
As well as the ‘she’s everything, he’s just Ken’ campaign, marketing for Barbie included a ‘this Barbie is a…’ campaign where fans could get to know a little more about the characters: i.e. This Barbie is a President or this ‘Barbie is a singer’.
I think it’s safe to say that this film will be a cultural reset for both those experiencing nostalgia and younger people who still enjoy playing with their Barbie dolls. Now we all know a little bit more about Barbie and the incredible transformation she has undergone to get to the Barbie we know and love today.
As for the 21st July, see you in Barbieland girlies, it’s safe to say this Barbie can’t wait!