Like many women, as a girl, I grew up playing with Barbies and many other dolls, but never thought deeply about what they symbolized or the cultural values they represented. However, those cultural values cannot be ignored in the latest movie staring the iconic children’s toy.
There are many excellent Christian movie reviews of Warner Brothers’ new Barbie film, and this article will not attempt to rehash what so many have already articulated so well. Rather, by examining Barbie as a godless response to a broken culture, this article will explore the rebuttal of Scripture and what the Word of God teaches about women in the Kingdom of God.
Steeped in progressive liberation philosophy and radical feminism, the new Barbie movie was touted as a blend of the brand’s iconic pink nostalgia melded with profound “cultural commentary” and insightful thoughts on “female empowerment.” The opening scene is telling, where little girls are playing with baby dolls and prams, when Barbie descends from the sky like a goddess bringing a more enlightened, imaginative form of life and play to young girls. Moments later, the girls begin smashing in the heads of their baby dolls, destroying the very things they once nurtured. Throughout the film, the blatant attack on motherhood and traditional female roles continues. Viewers are introduced to the fantasy world of Barbieland, where women resembling the dolls live in “dream houses” and drive “dream cars.” The society is entirely female dominated, where the president, judiciary, business world, and medical world are exclusively run by women, and male characters are deemed “superfluous” citizens. Mantras like “Make your own kind of magic” and “Don’t think too much about it” are repeated throughout the film, reinforcing our own hedonistic society that denies reality and teaches individuals that they can create their own truth and that personal pleasure and fulfillment are the greatest virtues. The liberation ethos of the film suggests that this personal happiness is best achieved through rejecting all traditional values and amassing control of worldly things, like material possessions, the perfect appearance, and control over one’s own body. The film has strong sexual undertones, featuring semi-pornographic lyrics in the soundtrack, homoerotic interactions between Ken and the other male characters, and supporting characters who openly represent perverse lifestyles. Perhaps the strangest thing is that while the film does not portray Barbie as a hero (suggesting that she ruined many women’s self-image and mocks her ultra-perfect feminine appearance), the film openly objectifies women for their bodies and sex appeal. For all of these reasons, the film’s attempt at “positive” messaging on female empowerment rings hollow.
However, in the real world, the hollow and horrifying lifestyles depicted in Barbie are no less empty or tragic. The Barbie Doll made its debut in 1959 at the dawn of the modern feminist movement. Unlike earlier movements advocating for women’s suffrage and the right to own property and have equal social rights, the feminist movement of the 1960’s & 1970’s included distinct anti-male sentiment and suggested that the only way for women to be properly valued was to devalue men. “Strong” women back then were women who did masculine things in masculine ways-in board rooms, in surgical theaters, in politics, in science…women “arrived” when they behaved like men but were still female. The problem with this zero-sum game is that it diminishes what it means to be male and female. We need men to be uniquely male and women to be uniquely female, with each gender using their unique gifts to compliment and build up all people, rather than devaluing the other. Fast forward to 2023 and an era where biological men can put on a dress and be touted by popular culture as a better woman than any biological woman. If it’s not misogynistic to say that the best woman is man, what is? And what message does this send to young men about the way to gain attention, power, influence? Yet, in a world that believes “you can make your own kind of magic” and be anything you want to be, this is where we have come. People fight other people to take what they have and be what they are, rather than being the original individual man or woman they were created to be. And just like the junior high bully who destroys others to win a popularity contest, there is little satisfaction or joy in these modern mores. Modern western society is more selfish, materialistic, and appearance-obsessed than ever—employing every glimmering object for its own gratification and valuing others for how they can be exploited—and yet, it is all as empty and fragile as a house of cards.
Fortunately, the Word of God offers something that is genuinely true, infinitely beautiful, and eternally satisfying. Genesis 1:27 reminds us that whether male or female, we are created in the image of God. Psalm 139:14 reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who has a purpose for each day of our lives. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God’s plan for us is good. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are His masterpiece, created to be the hands and feet of Jesus, making an eternal difference in the world around us when we walk according to the plan He has for us. These are powerful truths that fill our lives with rich identity and deep satisfaction that speaks to our very souls.
And God’s Word has more to say for His daughters. Instead of finding value as objects of worldly desire, the lover of our souls values our character and He treasures hearts purified by the blood of the Lamb. He calls us to put our value in all that is eternal and to live more beautiful, gracious lives. 1 Peter 3:3-4 says,
“Your adornment must not be merely external—with interweaving and elaborate knotting of the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or [being superficially preoccupied with] dressing in expensive clothes; but let it be [the inner beauty of] the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, [one that is calm and self-controlled, not overanxious, but serene and spiritually mature] which is very precious in the sight of God.”
Psalm 34:5 says that when we look to God, our faces are made radiant with joy. What could be more genuinely beautiful? Scripture is filled with heroines who set truly beautiful examples of real women who embodied this type of genuine beauty.
Have Courage like Esther, whose inner beauty and heroic courage won the king’s heart and saved her people.
Trust God like Hannah, who though baren, prayed for a son and dedicated him to the Lord, willingly giving her heart’s desire into the hands of trustworthy God.
Work Hard Like Ruth, whose loyal love and dedication to the Living God lead her to strange land, where her willingness to labor and advocate for her family won redemption.
Lead & Guide Like Deborah, whose wisdom and humility lead a nation to victory and peace.
Walk in Faith Like Mary, who was determined to serve as a vessel of God’s will, even if cost her everything.
There are so many other amazing examples in the scriptures: Sarah, Miriam, Rahab, Rachel and Leah, Lydia, Eunice and Lois, and countless others. There have been godly women throughout history whose testimonies still speak (See our Heroines of the Faith Series for more inspiring stories). Today, we are called to leave the same beautiful legacy of love, grace, faith, and virtue as our sisters who have gone before us—a legacy that leads others to our Father’s Kingdom. This is true whether God calls and puts us in a board room, a surgical theater, politics, science, or raising a family. We know that in a “Barbie World,” we are nonetheless daughters of the King of Kings, born to a beautiful heritage of eternal purpose.
By Katherine Bussard - Katherine serves as the Chief Operating Officer of an international ministry. She previous served as the chief executive of a municipality and as a primary and secondary school teacher.
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