Barbie comes to the big screen and fuels nostalgia

Barbie is a boomer who shows no signs of aging. Others born in 1959 have knee and hearing problems, but Mattel’s doll is eternally young.

She is also the most shapely shapeshifter in history and now comes in tall, curvy and petite bodies with different skin tones and hair. Some dolls even have a large booty. This week, Mattel released a new Barbie doll with Down Syndrome as part of its Fashionista range, which also includes a Barbie in a wheelchair.

Margot Robbie as Barbie.

Margot Robbie as Barbie.Credit:Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

With 200 jobs under her belt, ranging from hamburger to astronaut and physicist, Barbie was the ultimate job hopper for millennials.

Now, in her first live-action film, Barbie is confronted with a very adult problem: an existential crisis.

The film by feminist director Greta Gerwig will be released on July 20th little woman Celebrity stars Margot Robbie and has a diverse cast.

Including Robbie as the classic pink Barbie, there are nine Barbies of different shapes, colors and professions. They outnumber Kens three to one, much to the delight of Barbie’s mostly female fans.

Emma Mackey plays a Barbie with a Nobel Prize in Physics, Dua Lipa is a mermaid Barbie, Hari Nef plays Doctor Barbie and Issa Rae is President Barbie, Nicola Coughlan of Derry Girls’ fame is Barbie the diplomat.

The film’s release will be marked by new toys, says Niki Kazakos, senior director, global corporate communications at Mattel, “but at this point [the company] cannot give any further details”.

The engagement on social media was “incredible,” says Kazakos.

The release of Barbie Trailers and a Barbie selfie maker made Barbie trending on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram in April with memes, mashups and TikTok videos ranging from real to satirical.

A variety of online quizzes have been published. These include: “What kind of Barbie are you?” (According to Buzzfeed, I’m Barbie living in a sorority house.)

At the Superstar Dolls Sydney store in Bexley, owner Fady Abdelmessih says the film has been “a gold mine for pop culture” and interest in the film and the new dolls that are expected to be released is delighting collectors.

And at a Barbie High Tea at the Casula Powerhouse – for dolls, their owners and adults – parents and children say they’re looking forward to the film. However, some wonder if it will be suitable for young children.

Fady Abdelmessih at hs Superstar Dolls Sydney store in Bexley, with several iconic barbies.

Fady Abdelmessih at hs Superstar Dolls Sydney store in Bexley, with several iconic barbies.Credit:Walter Peeters

Children with dolls brought from home stand in line to be photographed herald’s Wolter Peeters after viewing a collection of Barbies and Kens in Qantas uniforms from the Powerhouse collection.

Maddison Gainge, 5, dressed in Barbie socks for the event and arrived with a sample of her collection. Her mother, Janelle Gainge, says Maddison’s favorite is Doctor Barbie.

Nancy Huynh’s daughter Riley hugs a classic blonde barbie she has named Lucy. Huynh says, “I loved playing with Barbie as a kid, so it’s great to see my daughter playing with Barbie. ”

Since then, Barbie has changed. “There are so many different professions and cultural backgrounds,” says Huynh.

Parents at Casula’s High Tea say their children enjoyed playing with the Barbie dolls, which come with a wheelchair.

Nobody knows the plot of the new film. But insiders say Robbie’s character, the blonde tall Barbie, which has been criticized by feminists as a paragon of 1960s perfection, has been relegated from the Barbie world to the real world because of her imperfections. Ken brought his rollerblades as a spare.

Moorebank's Riley Huynh with her Barbie doll at a high tea at the Casula Powerhouse earlier this month.

Moorebank’s Riley Huynh with her Barbie doll at a high tea at the Casula Powerhouse earlier this month.Credit:Walter Peeters

Barbie will probably discover what it’s like to be an ordinary person. “Living in Barbieland means being a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-fledged existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken,” read the film’s marketing material.

Barbie was invented in 1959 by Mattel’s co-founder Ruth Handler as a teenage model to show girls that they could be more than just a mother.

“My whole Barbie philosophy was that the doll could let the little girl be whatever she wanted to be,” said Handler. “Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices. Every little girl needed a doll through which to project her dreams of her future.”

A Powerhouse curator, Alysha Buss, said that when Barbie made her debut, she was very different from the baby dolls of the time.

“She was a new breed of real-life doll,” said Buss, who works with the museum’s children’s collection and textiles. “She represented a glamorous, up-and-coming lifestyle and a window into the American way of life. From the start there was a strong focus on fashion, a large wardrobe of clothes…ready for dates, parties, hobbies and vacations. And the idea was that Barbie could do whatever she wanted.”

“She has endlessly morphed and changed over the years. Now there’s a huge range of different shapes and sizes and abilities and skin tones, ethnicities and cultural identities.”

Mattel showed women in male domains. Thinking of her like that, Barbie is a feminist.

Megan Carter, co-founder of a Barbie fan club in Australia

Barbie started out tall and blonde or tall and brunette, with an impossibly small waist that critics said promoted anorexia and eating disorders.

Megan Carter co-founded the Australian Barbie Club (now ABC Doll Club) 30 years ago. She said that Barbie sales in Australia were slow for the first few years, partly because Barbies sold for $3. This was too expensive for most families, especially considering each doll only came in a swimsuit and the fun was in transforming the doll into a variety of expensive costumes.

Maddison Gainge, 5, with her favorite Barbie dolls. At high tea at the Casula Powerhouse, guests were invited to bring their favorite dolls.

Maddison Gainge, 5, with her favorite Barbie dolls. At high tea at the Casula Powerhouse, guests were invited to bring their favorite dolls. Credit:Walter Peeters

“I really wanted a Barbie doll,” Carter said. “We got the cheap ones at Coles, only 75 cents. One of the reasons I started the club was so I could finally meet another collector.”

Barbie’s first job was as a model, but as society changed, so did Barbie.

“The fact is, she’s a woman who has stayed single and has multiple careers,” Carter said. “Barbie was a nurse in the 1960s and in the 1970s it was Dr. Barbie. She was a flight attendant in the 1960s and a pilot 20 years later.”

“It showed women in male domains. When you think of her like that, Barbie is a feminist.”

Barbie is also used today to refer to the lack of female representation in museums and galleries by the popular ArtActivist Barbie Twitter account.

Barbie has had its ups and downs in terms of popularity and sales. Given Barbie’s unrealistic form, criticized from the start, there were some colossal missteps. This included the release of a teenage Barbie with a weight loss diet book titled Do not eat, reported Time Magazine. Another time, Mattel released a talking barbie that said, “Math class is hard.”

When the company introduced the new body shapes for Barbie in 2016, it was so significant it ended up on the cover Time Magazine.

Transgender actress Laverne Cox who had a Barbie based on her.

Transgender actress Laverne Cox who had a Barbie based on her.Credit:AP

Before the release of these more realistically shaped dolls, Time The magazine reported that Mattel’s former Barbie brand executive, Evelyn Mazzocco, “regularly receives hate mail and death threats over Barbie’s dead body.”

Carter has always collected the non-stereotypical Barbies. She says the first African American Barbie was launched in 1980, and Barbie had black friends by 1967.

Last year, Barbie released the first transgender Barbie doll, starring actress and activist Laverne Cox Orange is the new black.

The actress told bazaar that her mother didn’t allow her to have a Barbie doll as a child “because I was considered male at birth”.

Back in Bexley, customer Angelina Ntiamoah, a high school teacher who has a room full of Barbies, had brought an original 1962 Barbie for appraisal.


Blonde Bubble-Cut Barbie doll is worth around $300 due to an unusual side parting in her hair.

If she sells, Ntiamoah will use the money to buy new dolls, most likely ones that will be released with the film.

Abdelmissah says his shop doesn’t sell dolls. “We sell therapies. When people grew up they wanted dolls like Barbie, but they weren’t allowed to have them. It’s a nostalgic market.”

Like Carter, Ntiamoah never had enough dolls as a child and dreamed of owning many when she grew up. Now she has a room full. “I thought I was the only crazy one,” she says. “Until I met other Barbie collectors.”

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Justin Scaccy

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