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Barbie and Bella: two different shades of female liberation


Barbie’s evolution is more abstract than Bella’s; Barbie’s adolescence begins with her doubts, her embarrassment and her thoughts of death. Her hero’s journey is a quest from her fantasy playground to the real world, where she hopes to find Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), the girl who played with her. Although Barbie locates her, she realizes that Sasha is not the cause of her recent changes. Barbie is psychologically linked to the girl’s mother, Gloria (America Ferrera), a Mattel employee whose thoughts of cellulite and death have been transferred to Barbie in Barbieland.

Barbie is the bridge between this mother and her daughter, embodying Sasha’s abandoned childhood and Gloria’s adult thoughts. It falls between two generations of women who initially feel disconnected from their politics, as when Sasha abruptly views Barbie as not the symbol of female empowerment she thinks she is, but an anti-feminist consumer product that has damaged girls’ self-image. But Sasha, Gloria, and Barbie reach common ground about all the ways society oppresses, represses, silences, and limits women.

A major step in Barbie’s awakening, and ultimately in her transition to becoming not just a doll but a real woman in the real world, is her encounter with the ghost of Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman), co-founder of Mattel and creator of Barbie. . Handler tells Barbie that she named him and Ken after her children, and Barbie even adopts Handler’s last name when she returns to the real world to stay.

Motherhood is not Barbie’s solution. But her discovery of a mother figure and her relationship with Gloria and Sasha also lead her towards a new freedom of action. In this sense, motherhood is less about literal children and more about notions of female autonomy passed down from generation to generation and those that do not succeed.

In other words, these stories also speak to a feminist lineage. Both Bella and Barbie are able to fully construct and understand their identities as they step outside of the patriarchy and access their inner daughter and inner mother. The point of both stories is that a woman’s freedom extends beyond the precise roles that society would exclusively prescribe for her, whether that be child, wife, or mother. To be a free woman, like Bella or Barbie, is to be free from any definition – or rather free to define oneself.


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