Portrayed by: Margot Robbie
Film: Greta Gerwig’s Barbie
It’s hard to believe what a global sensation Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is, even after you’ve taken time to process the depth and complexity of the film. It’s hard to believe that a character inspired by a doll has so much nuance and personality, especially when she’s called Stereotypical Barbie. But there’s no one who could add layers and warmth and kindness to women the way Gerwig can, making us feel that much more relatable in the process.
My favorite Barbie doll growing up looked the most like me—she had brown hair and wore a purple dress. The twirling Ballerina Barbie called Teresa was as close as I’d get to finding a doll that had something in common with me. And all of our relationships with Barbie will differ based on our childhoods, personalities, ethnicities, etcetera. But at the end of the day, Barbie was what we made her out to be—she might’ve been a Ballerina, but in my corner of the world I created, she was also a teacher and, if I remember correctly a karate fighter. The brilliant part of dolls and our imaginations is the art of creation we take part in as kids, layering the plastic toys by adding range and personality to them.
Stereotypical Barbie: What’s in a Name?
A lot goes into the name, too, and the word stereotypical can go in a myriad of ways. In the film, Stereotypical Barbie is the embodiment of perfection—quite literally, especially when Margot Robbie is at the helm. It’s easy to be intimidated by the idea of her right from the start, yet the moment we meet her, she’s simultaneously the epitome of kindness. Barbie could’ve gone two ways, fumbling the back with a lot of hypocrisy, yet instead, it’s a movie made for women by a woman. It’s a movie that showcases the profundity and nuances of kindness by allowing its lead character to showcase that her beauty isn’t the best thing about her.
She’s one thing on the surface, but the existential dread that Gerwig forces her to go through and Robbie’s performances show us that no matter how a person appears on the outside, women are always so much more. The depth and bravery they’re capable of often hide under the guise of their looks because it’s all anyone has ever seen and commented upon for ages. There have been films about women doing the opposite of what they should do in pageants, dismantling some of the toxic masculinity within the system, but this concept that women will always be under scrutiny is what Stereotypical Barbie represents.
Her name alone forces us to look at her one way, but as the film progresses, we see a different side of her that enables us to shed the labels we’ve brought upon ourselves. The perfect example of Stereotypical Barbie in the real world is Taylor Swift—a woman selling out stadiums every night, but all anyone ever wants to talk about is who she’s dating. With that in mind, Gerwig uses Ken to showcase the expectations brought upon Barbie while simultaneously ensuring that, in the end, both characters shouldn’t be tethered to anything but their own agency.
Further, there’s more than one way to examine how Barbie is named and the journey viewers take toward uncovering who she wants to be despite the expectations thrust upon her. It’s in the human world where we see her understand the depth of beauty and aging that shows us how the love residing within a being matters most in their character. Stereotypical Barbie cares about her friends, she cares about Barbie Land, and she cares about people. She wants people to like her not because of what she’s meant to stand for but because she’s under the belief that she’s sincerely doing something right for all women. Greta Gerwig exhibits the importance of complexities and beauty by naming her something so simple and mundane while allowing her to showcase kindness and empathy.
Her Wholesome Kindness
More often than not, outright pretty girls are synonymous with mean girls in media. They’re portrayed as women who believe they are better than everyone else, often needing to learn a grand message about compassion by the end of the film. Yet that’s not the case with Stereotypical Barbie because right from the start, she is the light people look to as they acknowledge both her external and internal beauty. Stereotypical Barbie is beloved because she’s kind, warm, and cares about her friends. She’s beloved because the gleam in her eyes is a perpetual light, even when the thoughts of death start to creep in, tarnishing the vision of perfection she’s supposed to stand as.
Her journey in finding herself not only disassembles some of those labels but also highlights the essence of kindness by revealing why it matters to be someone who loves deeply. It’s where the arguments about how she treats Ken fall flat because, at the end of the film, it’s not just about Barbie Land and faux feminism; it’s about the Kens, too—it’s about embracing individual complexities and learning how to embrace the best and worst in life. It’s about trying new things and learning from our mistakes. It’s about having a choice and understanding how crucial it is to be granted one in the first place.
As Greta Gerwig highlights the significance of creativity and how human beings choose to leave a legacy behind, Stereotypical Barbie’s choice to live as a human allows her to shed more of the labels and embrace the plethora of layers instead. She wants to leave something behind because she cares about agency, and she cares about people, women especially, living out their dreams. By meeting Gloria and Sasha, learning to adore them and learning from them, Stereotypical Barbie understands that growing old is part of the beauty that Barbie as a doll promises.
Finally, while the writing and directing do a brilliant job of showing us Stereotypical Barbie’s growth and heart, Margot Robbie brings her to life so beautifully that it’s hard to put words to it. The most enamoring, downright vulnerable part of her performance is the scene at the bus stop, which shows the prodigious amount of heart she put into creating a character who’s so much more than her looks. The sincerity at that moment, the single tear streaming down her face, and her breathtaking smile show us how much love resides in the seemingly plastic character. She’s kindness, love, empathy, admiration, drive, and unbridled joy all wrapped up in a creation meant to become a beacon of hope and possibilities.