I accepted my daughter’s analysis that I wasn’t the target audience for the Barbie movie and decided not to contribute to the film’s box-office, mega-dollars success. My disappointment over not seeing the movie was minimal. I’d owned the original Barbie in her iconic, black-and-white-swimsuit days and admittedly was smitten by her glamorous appearance and luxurious, bespoke wardrobe. But by the time Barbie got all pink-y and started acquiring houses and cars and yachts, I’d outgrown my Barbie phase (which is a good thing because I never could've afforded to keep Barbie in the lavish lifestyle she'd come to expect).
But then America Ferrera’s monologue and all the brouhaha it instigated—both pro and con—started showing up on social media. I tried to practice restraint and refrain from weighing in, but as I recently read in a book, what good is it to practice restraint when no one knows you’re practicing it? Off to the Barbie movie I went so that I could be an “informed” participant in the imbroglio.
From the moment I entered the theater lobby, it became apparent my daughter’s analysis was spot on: I was not the target audience. I felt no urge to don a sparkly pink hat or drape a pink feather boa around my neck and pose for a picture in front of a giant pink Barbie poster. (Although now I wish I had. Would've made a great photo for this post, and pink is a very good color for me.) Furthermore, if forced to sum up the movie, my response would be “hot mess.”
I could sort of follow the plot and grasp the themes, but I caught very few of the movie’s nuances, innuendoes, allusions. I thought the music and dancing were . . . meh. There is no arguing that Margot Robbie is beautiful, but the clothing styles, while “cute,” were nothing to excite my “mature” fashion taste. I’m not suggesting these are shortcomings on the movie-makers’ part. Like I said, I wasn’t the target audience.
Regarding Ferrera’s monologue (I know I’m treading on thin ice here), to me it came across as a bit of a whine. I think a lot of the negative responses sound whiny as well. A few days ago my friend Martha re-posted from Journey of a Mountain Woman Facebook Page which tells of the hardships of previous generations of women. The post reminded me of a poem I taught years ago in American literature about a pioneer woman named Lucinda Matlock. From the grave she told of a life filled with hard work, joys, and heartaches—among the heartaches, burying eight of her twelve children. I’ve linked to the entire poem, but am quoting the final lines here:
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness?
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love Life.
This leads to my one, clear take-away from the Barbie movie--a good and important one. Barbie ultimately chooses the “real” world over her perfect but artificial Barbie-land existence, reminding me of yet another favorite literary passage. In The Velveteen Rabbit, The Skin Horse is explaining to the Rabbit what it means to be Real. “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept . . . once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Even with its messiness, inequities, and imperfect humans, Barbie deems life in the real world worth the pain and frustration. And just like Lucinda and the Skin Horse, she realizes she will have to be strong and resilient to handle its challenges. That’s a theme this non-targeted, septuagenarian viewer can get on board with.
As luck would have it, right in the middle of all my Barbie-movie reflecting, the instructor played this song in my exercise class. (Note: I work out to be healthy, not skinny. 😉) Hope it imparts a positive message for every woman!