HomeLife StyleBarbie and Bella: Two Different Shades of Female Liberation

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, self-consciousness and thoughts of death. Her hero’s journey is a quest from her fantasy playland to the real world, where she hopes to find Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), the girl who used to play with her. Though Barbie locates her, she realizes 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 transferred to Barbie in Barbieland.

Barbie is the bridge between this mother and daughter, embodying the abandoned childhood of Sasha and the adult thoughts of Gloria. She’s set between two generations of women who at first feel disconnected in their politics, as when Sasha brutally cuts Barbie down as not the symbol of female empowerment she thinks she is, but an anti-feminist consumer product that damaged girls’ self-images. But Sasha, Gloria and Barbie reach a common ground in all the ways society oppresses, suppresses, silences and limits women.

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

Motherhood isn’t Barbie’s solution. But her discovery of a mother figure and her relationship with Gloria and Sasha also lead her to a place of newfound agency. In this sense, motherhood is less about literal children than about which notions of female autonomy are passed down through the generations, and which don’t make it.

In other words, these stories are also about a feminist lineage. Both Bella and Barbie are able to fully build and understand their identities when they get out from under the patriarchy and gain access to their inner daughter and inner mother. The point of both stories is that a woman’s freedom lies beyond the neat roles that society would exclusively prescribe her, whether that’s child, wife or mother. To be a free woman, like Bella or Barbie, is to be free of definition — or, rather, to be free to define oneself.

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