August 14, 2023

Barbiecore is Litmus Test in Post-Roe America

Margot Robbie as Barbie gazes out a pink port window wearing a gold lamé top and a matching astronaut helmet. Photo by Ethan James Green for British Vogue Magazine.


“Well, what’s the story of Barbie?” Greta Gerwig recently told the New York Times. “The story of Barbie is the fight that’s been going on about Barbie.”

By Leslie A. Hahner


It’s Barbie’s world and we are living in it.

The new Barbie movie grossed over 1.03 billion in domestic and international markets in its first 17 days. Marketing partnerships and extensive public relations work have placed Barbie everywhere. From TikTok and Twitter to the New York Times and Vogue, Barbie is taking over our screens.

Barbie flair has become a litmus test for viewers in Post-Roe America. Photographs of Barbie and her signature style, Barbiecore, bounce across the internet, eliciting strong reactions. Audiences either love her or hate her. As a symbol, Barbie distinguishes what is empowering from what is oppressive.

For many fans, Barbie is an empowering role model. In May 2023, British Vogue interviewed the star of the new Barbie movie, Margot Robbie. The photoshoot for the interview highlighted Barbie’s many transformations and how she has enjoyed over 300 careers. In these images, Barbie is more than just impossibly-proportioned plastic. She is a cutting-edge leader to emulate.

One photograph (above) shows Margot Robbie as Barbie gazing out a pink port window in an astronaut helmet. The image is a spoof on the opening of the new Barbie film, a Mattel doll take on Kubrick’s dawn of man. It’s also meant to highlight that Barbie has entered a new era. She is no longer bound by the gravity of earth; she is exploring new vistas.

Barbie is in her villain era in the Greta Gerwig film, outside her box and ready to shake up Barbie world. The astronaut image underscores this vantage on Barbie. In this pink fantasy, Barbie is a world changer. Barbie is weightless, with her blonde hair levitating around her gold lamé top. She looks with eyes toward the future.

Barbie as empowering is based on the idea that today, Barbie is beyond the box. For these viewers, Barbie has experienced a more progressive life than her earlier versions.

By the 1990s, Mattel had changed Barbie’s body and continued to develop the toy line to respond to ongoing criticisms. Viewers who grew up with Barbie over the last 30 years often relate to her as inspirational.

Post-Roe, Barbie is at least one site where girls can imagine their future. British Vogue accentuates such a playful perspective. Barbie levitates. She is set in space, away from the demands of the dogged world.

Barbie also has become the leading political symbol of gender politics. As Barbie fandom reaches new heights, her visage is more powerful than ever. Political pundits have seized Barbie for their own purposes. Of course, dolls are easier political talking points than the current circumstances regarding healthcare and autonomy.

As Barbie appeared in theaters in late July, Gretchen Whitmer’s team released a video of Lil’ Gretch Barbie governing Michigan.

Political observers like Celinda Lake and Jennifer Palmieri believe the Lil’ Gretch campaign won’t diminish Ms. Whitmer’s stature. Photo: Julia Pickett/Michigan Governors’ Office

A Barbie dressed in a hot pink suit, just like Governor Big Gretch, sits at a miniature Governor’s desk, speaks at a podium, and drives her Detroit muscle car.

Lil’ Gretch responds to ongoing criticisms that Whitmer has often faced. Whitmer has seen a slew of political attacks, including attempted kidnapping and death threats. Governor Barbie’s images announce that Whitmer is not going anywhere. She is here to govern, in fuschia, her “power color.”

Montage via The New York Times. Brittany Greeson for The New York Times; Carlos Osorio/Associated Press; Al Goldis/Associated Press.

Whitmer’s fashion-forward responses to political violence have already received wide acclaim. Jennifer Palmieri of Vanity Fair praised Whitmer’s use of Barbie as empowering. Here, Barbie is not simply a plastic doll but a retort to narrow-minded criticisms of women in politics.

Even Kate Middleton embraced Barbie’s signature style. Dressed in pale pink, Middleton smiles with confidence. Puff-shoulder Barbie fashion adopts the Barbie brightness of summer.

Caption: Kate Middleton in pastel pink dress on June 28, 2023. Photo: Mark Cuthbert for UK Press via Getty Images, People Magazine

The choice seems purposeful, with some viewers noting that Middleton’s Barbiecore may be a strategic boost to the crown’s beleaguered public image—a splash of Barbie’s bashful innocence to freshen up a royal reputation.

The opposition to Barbie’s inclusive new approach shows how quickly tides can change. Barbie has been called the Pink Menace, and a right-wing media meltdown is occurring at full speed.

Screenshot via Media Matters

Right-wing pundits such as Charlie Kirk and Ben Shapiro lambasted the film as “trans-propaganda” that “grooms children.” Just as these ideologies have gone after Mr. Potato Head, Muppets, Legos, and many other children’s products, these right-wingers suggest that a trans actor playing Doctor Barbie in the film shows how dangerous Barbie is as a symbol.

Congressman Matt Gaetz attended the film opening, saying he would see the “woke” film if only to see Margot Robbie. After seeing the film, Gaetz’s wife complained that Ken has “Disappointingly Low-T.” Still other conservative public figures have denounced the film as garbage. Here, Barbie becomes an easy punching bag used to disparage efforts at inclusion.

Barbie is the leading barometer through which and against political vistas are brokered. The new political Play-Doh of our times, Barbie is a touch point, a symbol that can be moved and used for a variety of purposes. Who Barbie is, what she can do, and what she values has become a surrogate for broader gender politics.

“Well, what’s the story of Barbie?” Greta Gerwig recently told the New York Times. “The story of Barbie is the fight that’s been going on about Barbie.”

Post By

Leslie A. Hahner
See other posts by Leslie A. here.

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