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Global issues

Why Barbie Matters

July 20, 2023

The hype around the new Barbie movie is enormous. But for 64 years, opinions on the long-legged, blonde doll have been divided. Why does Barbie matter?

Diverse Barbie-Puppen
Image: Cover-Images/imago images
Elliot und Ruthe Handler von Mattel
Image: AP Photo/picture alliance

For some, the 30-centimeter plastic doll represents a toxic ideal of beauty; for others, she is a feminist icon. How does that go together? Barbie is the subject of heated debate and has been one of the biggest selling toys since its emergence onto the market in 1959.

Arts Unveiled introduces its inventor Ruth Handler, who, according to US author Susan Shapiro, is a pioneer of feminism. Barbie is independent, confident, and a working woman. A man is at best an accessory in the doll’s life. Others view the Barbie cult more critically. Doctors, feminists, artists criticize the female stereotype that Barbie represents.

Barbie | Taofick Okoya und seine Queens of Africa

Although Barbie has always evolved. The doll has long been made in almost all skin colors. A Barbie with Down’s syndrome is now also available to buy. In Africa, there has been real competition for a while: the Nigerian “Queens of Africa” dolls aim to convey a completely different image of beauty and womanhood, celebrating color and diversity.




UK, London | Ryan Gosling und Margot Robbie bei der "Barbie"-Europapremiere
Image: James Warren/Avalon/IMAGO

What can a “Barbie” film in 2023 add to that? Director Greta Gerwig has turned the Barbie myth into a wild, disruptive film that also highlights the criticism of the franchise. One thing is for certain: Barbie isn’t going anywhere.





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