As an eating disorder survivor, I was curious to see whether the Barbie film would comment on any aspects of the doll's harmful body ideals. As infamous as the unrealistic toy-sized measurements are, I guessed body image may be part of the film's core focus, and I left glad that it was not. Without spoilers, I'd like to talk about Barbie's shoes.
One of the plot's inciting crises involved Barbie's life altering distress sparked by her fallen arches. From the eating disorder advocacy perspective, focusing on the shoes rather than body size was genius. The shoes symbolize stability, autonomy, even dignity. When Barbie could no longer able stand on her own two feet, she faced the indignity of barefooted desperation and ultimately was forced to accept "ugly but comfy" Birkenstocks for her newly flat feet.
I loved this message mainly for it's universal relatability. Footwear is a fashion statement. We've all heard the phrase that the price of beauty is pain. It comes from a French saying that translates to "one must suffer to be beautiful.” Thus, Barbie's feet are perpetually molded into the shape of stiletto's, confirming that beauty is inherently incompatible with comfort. Hence the tradeoff many can relate to: Beauty or comfort? The decision makes a difference.
Economists in China are already reporting a rise in sales of Birkenstocks and Crocs in direct correlation with Barbie's debut. The report read, "The rise of the “ugly but comfy” shoe trend coincides with a growing global awareness of gender equality, as more women, especially from younger generations, reject high heels as an outdated form of patriarchal conditioning imposed on women." Love this for us young women.
The message on shoes also alludes to female agency. Women aren't just embracing "ugly" shoes to reject patriarchal standards or seek comfort. The shoes themselves are an expression of collective art and connection. Back to the example of China, "Mainland social media platform Xiaohongshu has more than 40,000 posts related to 'shoe flowers,' [Jibbetz, for all my 2000s Croc girlies out here] a way for young girls to showcase their creativity and foster social interactions." Young women are creating community with their fashion leadership.
I felt more empowered from this message than a larger commentary on Barbie's body measurements. After all, the film is for all the Barbie's, Ken's, Allan's and Midge's out there, and an analysis on the doll's body measurements would have likely fallen flat on its record-breaking audiences. The Barbie doll's looks are infamously unattainable and unrealistic and are therefore highly unrelatable.
To be clear, it's definitely not on Margot Robbie or the film itself to repair the problematic beauty standards set by the plastic doll. The all-white male boardroom at Mattel led by Will Ferrell alluded to that problem and its creators clear enough.
A similar message goes for Ken. His character's identity crisis wasn't about his body or his abs, it was about his self worth as an individual, apart from people pleasing and taking care of Barbie. We already get the feminist irony here so I won't say more.
Ultimately, focusing on the body would have trivialized the larger point: The film was about finding one's purpose and fulfillment. In the end, whether Barbie opted for the stilletos or the Birkenstocks didn't matter. The audience took a walk in the very relatable shoes of a coming-of-age woman losing her innocence and navigating a not-so-dreamlike reality. Although - here's a spoiler - she winds up in bright pink Birks.