Are We Boxing Ourselves in Barbie Definitions As Well?

Published on 8/2/2023

Along with most of the world, I went to watch Barbie last week. The film somehow managed to exceed my sky-high and pink glitter-dusted expectations. I could go into so many details about the film, but this article isn’t a review.

Instead, I want to talk about one of the Barbie takeaways I haven’t seen discussed until now.

We’ve talked about the Kens of our lives, the powerful monologue by America Ferreira, and the countless incredible outfits worn through the film. But we seem to be missing one of the biggest messages of the film.

Yes, a key point is the underlying misogyny of our society and how easily the hate of women can be spread. But it’s also about the boxing of Barbie, and with it, the boxing of ourselves.

She’s Stereotype Barbie

Margot Robbie is Stereotype Barbie. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that if she froze for a few minutes, someone might actually try to box her up. I recently saw Mattel’s new line of Margot-inspired dolls for the film, and it felt like an impossible game of spot-the-difference. I’m still looking for it.

We also got a few other Barbies thrown into the mix, like Phycist Barbie, Doctor Barbie and Nobel Prize Barbie.

Each Barbie comes with a job or purpose in life. They have a catchy term to be printed on their box. They’re easy to recognise, perfect for a parent to purchase for the child. They can be boxed in a single word or phrase.

By the end of the film, Barbie chooses to become a human and leave behind Barbieland. With it, I suppose she’s giving up her label of Stereotype Barbie, as she’s no longer the perfect stereotype. She’s still incredibly beautiful, as I don’t think there’s a hair and makeup artist skilled enough to counteract that. But she isn’t the Stereotype because she’s no longer in Barbieland, she’s no longer dressed in those pristine outfits, and she’s heading to her gyno appointment.

She has shed her label, unlike the other Barbies remaining in Barbieland, and unlike those of us trapped in the real world.

What is your box?

While Barbie managed to shed her label, we still cling to ours. We gravitate our entire sense of self around a term.

For many of us, this is our job. One of the first things we ask upon meeting someone is what they do for a living.

“What do you do?”

How often have we heard and answered that question? How often have we started a conversation with it? It becomes the basis for knowing someone, it becomes their defining characteristic.

We almost exclusively answer it as a noun. I am a writer. I am a content marketer. I am a teacher.

It becomes what we are, our identifying quality. It becomes the definition of ourselves.

This is understandable, as we spend, on average, forty hours a week slotting into this role. But that isn’t our whole week, nor is it our whole identity. We’re limiting ourselves to the job we do for a living, or even for a passion, rather than allowing ourselves to be the sum of many parts.

If it’s not our job, we’re identifying ourselves by our marital status or whether we have children. We consider ourselves a wife or husband, a mother or father. And while these are facets of who we are, they’re not the complete picture.

The danger of a box

These are aspects of our identity. Yes, having children is a huge part of who you are, but it’s not the only part. If your passion is to become a writer, then it’s only natural that this feels like a defining term for you. But when we wrap our identity around a single term, a label for a Barbie box, we neglect so many other aspects of ourselves. We become so fixated on that one label that we forget the importance of everything else we should be. We’re never kind, loyal, curious or creative, we’re architects, parents or doctors.

If we ever lose that label, we’re left with nothing. Losing a job is difficult because of a loss of income, but also because it’s an identifying factor, it’s the first thing you’ll be asked in a conversation. Going through a breakup feels like a loss of identity, when it’s actually just a loss of that person. We become so fixated on being a partner to someone that it can trump being who we are without them.

We should be a collection of labels, all equally distributed in importance. We should be a collection of puzzle pieces, each of which reflects a different part of ourselves.

I’m a writer, that’s true. But I’m also a sister, which is equally important to understanding me. I’m a reader, which is one of my greatest passions and yet never asked of me. I’m a friend, I’m a baker, I’m a creative, I’m a daydreamer, I’m a whole person.

I don’t want to be a single word on a box. I don’t want to be trapped in the box of a writer because then I can’t see past the plastic wrapping around me. I don’t want to forever be Writer Barbie seated at a little plastic desk with a pink typewriter - although I’d love to have one of those.

One of the many lessons we take from the Barbie movie should be to break out of our own boxes and refuse to label ourselves so simply. I urge you to consider the many, many labels that make up your life. Take a moment to write them all down and recognise the fully formed person you are. Never stop adding to that list of labels, so that the loss of one is not too heavy a loss.



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