Last week, I presented a session at the 2023 AFT TEACH conference on using films to teach social and emotional learning in the classroom. Movies have been an amazing tool for me, and I’ve written about them for Share My Lesson (Zootopia and Cruella) and shared lessons for each (Zootopia and Cruella). My book Movie Magic came out last October, and I loved sharing how we can use the magic of film to connect with our students. As my session ended, of course, our conversation turned to the Barbie movie.
Barbie has been on my radar since the buzz started growing, and just this morning my daughter told me she and her best friend were going to see it, Barbiecore and all. (Barbiecore is the infusion of all things pink into your wardrobe, often stylized as a specific type of Barbie). I was a little surprised because I consider my greatest parenting accomplishment to be having a daughter who is confident, and strong, and refuses to let her body (or anyone else’s) define who she is and what she’ll wear.
I found myself with a free afternoon, and the temptation was too much. Were women stepping backward, ignoring the lessons I thought we’d been teaching them? What was the movie evoking in people to create an obsessive and devoted following so quickly? (My blog “Call to Action: Love Your Body Ladies” traces the body positivity movement.) I Ubered across town, bought literally the last seat for the 3:40 showing, and marveled at all of the pink, all of the women (and men) of all shapes and sizes, decked out as their favorite Barbie. I listened to shrieks of “Hey, Barbie!” as they passed each other. I’ve come to understand that this is a standard greeting because, you know, all Barbies are Barbie, if you know what I mean.
I am not going to say a single thing about the plot of the movie, although you might not have been able to avoid it. I was lucky to have the full impact of the experience, and I hope you will have the same. The thing is, you’re going to go see it again anyway; and the second time, you’ll be wearing pink, as will I. How can I predict this? Because as we left the movie, women were texting their friends, chatting about when they were coming again. Several women immediately planned double dates, excited to share this movie with their husbands and boyfriends. I know I’ll be taking my son and husband too. As I left the movie, I checked my text and had this message from my daughter:
She was not wrong. My mind was changed, too. Without a single ounce of irony, I can tell you that this movie captures the struggle to be human—both male and female—with heart-wrenching accuracy. If you are rolling your eyes that I just credited Barbie with my cathartic afternoon, just go see it. America Ferrera’s monologue on the duality of the female existence is all over the internet, but don’t overlook Ken’s existential crisis, too. There’s plenty of meaning in this movie for everyone.
Now, I’m not naive, and the marketing of this movie is nothing short of brilliant. Barbie opened to a record-setting $155 million in the United States, and globally a staggering $337 million. Additionally, Barbie scored the biggest opening weekend ever for a film directed by a woman, Greta Gerwig. As I mentioned, I was skeptical. I did not encourage my daughter to play with Barbies, as I wanted her to understand that this “perfection” was impossible: Barbie’s anatomy would make it impossible to support herself with her child-size feet, 39-inch bust and tiny waist. You can read about it here.
How do I reconcile the hype, the consumerism, the complicated past of the Barbie world with the fact that I loved this movie—I was changed by this movie? The Conversation explores the question I was left wondering: Is the Barbie Movie a Bold Step to Reinvent and Fix Past Wrongs or a Clever Ploy to Tap New Audiences? Check out the movie and decide for yourself. As for me, I enjoyed finding out that despite her tiny feet (an important component of the movie), Barbie can in fact stand up for herself, and for all of us.
Barbie Movie Pre-viewing and Discussion Guide
The pre-viewing guide is to help frame students viewing of the movie Barbie. It taps into their preconceived notions of gender, equity, and even the complex dualities that we all hold. The discussion guide is to use after the movie. It pulls quotes for students to think about, and it provides leading questions. I'd have students do this in small groups, but I'd end it with a full conversation with the whole class.