What Do You Think of Barbie?

Barbie,” the movie, was the blockbuster hit of the summer, earning over $1.4 billion worldwide, and demonstrating that Barbie, the 64-year-old plastic doll, still holds an important place in our collective psyche. Did you ever play with Barbies? Have you seen the movie — and if so, what was your reaction? Even though Barbie never went away, she certainly grabbed the spotlight with full force this summer. What do you think about Barbie — the doll, the movie and the recent cultural phenomenon?

In “Barbie Has Never Been a Great Symbol, but She’s an Excellent Mirror,” published on the opening day of “Barbie,” Andi Zeisler writes that “however we feel about Barbie at a given moment says a lot more about us than it does about Barbie.” Her essay begins:

The “Barbie” movie arrives today as the culmination of a nearly 15-year process that started when Universal Pictures acquired the rights to the character — which isn’t an unusually long time in Hollywood, where scripts regularly languish in turnaround until a combination of big names and deep pockets brings them to life. But Barbie’s film debut also comes in the context of a much longer and more tortuous journey with an existential question at its core: After all these years, does Barbie still matter? And if she does, then … why?

From the moment Barbara Millicent Roberts — Barbie — came on the scene in 1959, the doll was controversial. Male toy executives, conditioned to believe that little girls wanted to play with babies, were flummoxed by this representation of a fully grown woman. But little girls, as they do, understood. Barbie became a sensation. And then a lightning rod. Then a concern. For the past 64 years, Barbie has been at the center of countless debates about who women are, who they should be, how they look and what they want.

Barbie looms as simultaneously an unrealistically proportioned airhead and a striving Everywoman. Most of the time she can’t utter a word, yet she’s believed to speak for a critical mass of us. Perhaps that’s why the “Barbie” movie that finally exists is the only one that could exist: one that acknowledges and embraces that weirdness under the vigilant gaze of a corporate chaperone. The trailer’s tagline (“If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.”) is confirmation that Barbie is, in the most literal way, everyone’s business.

I get it. At 6 years old, I was offered a choice between two dolls for my birthday: the Bionic Woman or Barbie. I didn’t, in contemporary toy-representation parlance, see myself in Barbie; the Bionic Woman’s brown hair and jumpsuit much more accurately mirrored my ponytail and hand-me-down corduroy overalls. Barbie, with her white-blond cascade of flosslike hair and a plunge-necked pink dress, was nothing like any woman I’d ever seen. Wasn’t that the point?

I chose Barbie.

Students, read the entire Opinion essay and then tell us:

  • What do you think about Barbie — the toy, the film and the character’s place in our larger culture?

  • Did you watch the movie? Did you get dressed up to go to the theater with friends? What was your reaction to the movie and all the buzz surrounding it? Why do you think it was such a big hit?

  • Did you play with Barbie dolls when you were younger? Or know people who did? What role did Barbie play in your childhood?

  • Since she landed on toy shelves in 1959, Barbie has been controversial. Ms. Zeisler writes, “Barbie became a sensation. And then a lightning rod. Then a concern. For the past 64 years, Barbie has been at the center of countless debates about who women are, who they should be, how they look and what they want.” Do any of those debates have significance for you? Do you agree with the author that there is a “weirdness” about Barbie, how she “looms as simultaneously an unrealistically proportioned airhead and a striving Everywoman?”


Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.

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