How Growing-Up With Barbie Fueled Ambitions: Women Share Stories

Barbie may possibly have been one of the most inventive, and surprisingly sharp films that managed to source a social commentary from the deepest bowels of capitalism.

Ragini Daliya
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growing-up with Barbie
I was 5 when I was first introduced to a Barbie doll. One of my friends from school invited a bunch of us to show off her sparkling Barbie dreamhouse. "My uncle bought it from the US," she would beam while taking us on a tour of the fuschia-toned doll house. 

Compartmentalised into four walls, each dividing a room for all the amenities starting with a TV room, a kitchen, a staircase leading to a bathroom crowned with a bathtub and a bedroom with a built-in closet. The doll house came with two Barbies each with a set of change of clothes and a hair brush. My 5-year-old self had not thought of dolls so much until that tour. I too wanted a Barbie now.

I rushed back home that evening and put up a request with my father. We spent the next day travelling all around my small town, snooping in every gift shop to look for a Barbie. However, back then, commercialisation and globalisation had not reached my hometown, we did not have many brands, and getting a Barbie meant travelling to Mumbai which was approx 500 km far.

Soon, Barbies replaced storybooks, and I never really craved a doll again. 


Growing up with Barbie 

This Sunday, I managed to catch an early morning show of Greta Gerwig's Barbie. I wore a pink top and observed many women frolicking to theatres in many shades of pink. A tiny part of the mall was dolled up in pink balloons to participate in the film's immaculately crafted marketing mania.

The film may possibly have been one of the most inventive, and surprisingly sharp films from mainstream films in recent memory – to source a social commentary from the deepest bowels of capitalism. It questioned consumer culture, patriarchy, imperfections and what it would be like to live in a world run by women. Life in plastic seems fun, but reality hits harder than anyone could imagine.


One of the main themes of the film is its acceptance of the hellish trap women have been forced into. Caught between girl-boss feminism and misogyny, women now have to be rich, thin, liberated, and eternally grateful – because when Mattel promised little girls that “women can be anything”, it got twisted into “women should be everything”. 

The film runs high on female energy, and Barbies in the Barbieland serve in every possible working position — Supreme Court justices, doctors, writers, construction workers, and scientists. And Kens exist only to serve their Barbie counterparts.

The film claims that the Barbie dolls came into being because young girls were in desperate need of role models, and Barbie served as a vehicle to convey the message of independence. But how true is that? Did Barbie really inspire girls?

Writer Harnur Watta agrees and recalls how experimenting with hairstyling and makeovers on her Barbie dolls seeded their interest in styling. "I feel like they really provided me with a base and means to try things I was interested in but couldn't try on anything else. I still am very much in hair cutting and styling as well as providing makeup services so yeah barbie served as a good model for me to explore what I wanted to do," they/them added. 

Journalist Priya Prakash admits playing with Barbie dolls inspired her fashion choices which were often frowned upon by her strict grandparents.

"I used to get inspired by Barbie outfits and often tried dressing up similarly. Sometimes I would ask my parents to buy outfits like Barbie, which they would do against my dadi's wishes," said Priya.

Social media intern Yukta recalls happy childhood memories of playing with Barbies along with her sister. She says there was a preconceived notion that girls play with Barbies and so they did. They would style Barbie's hair and make dresses for her out of their mom's saris. 

However, after a significant controversy around its inclusion and diversity, Mattel over the years expanded the range of Barbie dolls, reflecting various ethnicities, body types, and abilities, making them more representative and relatable to children of different backgrounds.

Nodding to the same, 30-year-old Arzoo Gill, a professional at a Gurgaon startup, said she was very happy when they started manufacturing Barbie with coloured hair, and short hair. "As a girl growing up, I learned that there were more things to how a woman can dress or how she can grow her hair than what was stereotypically imposed earlier."

On paper, Barbie's feminism may not be groundbreaking, but it paves the way for a discourse on sisterhood. "I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing a woman, then I don’t even know,” said America Ferrera’s Gloria — a woman in the real world whose sad and dark fantasies about Barbie have set the doll’s word in chaos. 

The film acknowledges that change, even when challenging, is necessary and that perfection is an unrealistic goal for women, and dolls likewise.

Views expressed by the author are their own

Suggested reading: How Barbie Has Managed To Remain Relevant To Kids For Six Decades

Barbie dolls