Barbie Week: Rediscovering Sisterhood in Barbieland!
Reconnecting and rebuilding my relationship with my sister through Barbie (2023)
Emily Desormier · September 28, 2023
11 min read
“You have to wear something pink; we are going to see Barbie!” I playfully scolded my younger sister, Veronica.
Like seemingly everyone else in the world, we were getting ready to go see the movie of the summer, Barbie. Veronica, completely averse to the color pink, was donning a dark green t-shirt and black shorts. Meanwhile, I was dressed, almost literally, in head-to-toe pink, from the pink sunglasses perched atop my head to the pink sneakers on my feet.
“I’m wearing my pink socks, the only piece of pink clothing that I have,” Veronica shot back. After a little more badgering, she agreed to take my pink scrunchie to wear on her wrist, and off we went to the movie theater.
I was very excited to see Barbie, not just for the film itself, but because I was going to do so with my little sister; it was something that she was excited for us to do together. We’ve always had a strong bond, but lately, I’ve sensed the emergence of an expanding chasm between us. We are nine years apart in age, so, naturally, we are in vastly different places in our lives; she is fifteen and entering her sophomore year of high school, whereas I am twenty-four with college degrees and a full-time job. It also doesn’t help that we live far away from each other and are only able to see each other a handful of times each year. Although we have our phones and other ways of staying digitally connected, we rarely get to spend time occupying the same physical space together. It can be easy to forget to respond to a text.
When we were growing up, we always shared an extremely close bond. Our household was made up of just our mom and us, so we were able to forge the closeness that comes when you are each other’s only playmate, ally, and companion. She has been my favorite person in the whole world ever since I met her the day that she was born, and I love getting to spend time with her. So, it has been hard for me to feel her pulling away as she works on discovering who she is as a person away from the family. I recognize that this is a completely natural thing that every teenager has to do, and I am so proud of the person that she is becoming, but I still feel pangs of sadness when I think that maybe our closest days as sisters are behind us.
One thing that has always brought us together, however, is film. Whether that was sharing my favorite Disney movies with her when she was young or discovering so-bad-they’re-good films that became canonical to our household, watching movies has always been one of our favorite activities to do together. So, when I mentioned on a phone call to home that I was looking forward to seeing Barbie this summer, my ears perked up when Veronica shared that she wanted to see it too. I excitedly told her that we could see it together and started anticipating the film even more; even if Barbie turned out to be a disappointment, at least I would get to experience it with her.
After months of waiting, July 21st finally arrived, and Barbie was released into the world. While the whole world was trekking out to theaters to see the movie, I was waiting (im)patiently for August when Veronica would be coming to visit. Numerous friends invited me to go see the movie with them, but I declined every time because I wanted to experience Barbie for the first time while sitting next to my sister.
Eventually, in early August, we were together. When Veronica first arrived, things were a bit stilted and awkward; gone was the easy, relaxed chemistry that we once had, replaced instead by a guarded curtness. Out of the two of us, Veronica had always been the quieter one, happily letting me take the lead in conversations. But they were still conversations. Now, trying to talk to her felt a bit like pulling teeth; it just seemed like she would rather be anywhere else than talking to me.
One topic that did perk her up, however, was when the topic of the Barbie movie came up, whether it was a commercial on television for the film or just in conversation. Every time we saw Margot Robbie’s blonde, smiling face, Veronica always exclaimed, “I can’t wait to see Barbie!” before she went back to her quiet demeanor. After being disheartened by her distance, I started to look at the movie as a vessel for us to reconnect the same way that the other movies that we have watched and loved together over the years have strengthened our sisterly bond. I recognize that that is a lot of pressure to put on one movie, but I felt at a loss and was desperate to restore our relationship to what it had once been.
Finally, the big day arrived: we were going to the movie theaters to see Barbie. After we compromised on our pink attire, we went to the local cinema to see the picture. This is going to sound strange, but as we settled into our seats, I was already eagerly anticipating our drive home. Not because I was not looking forward to the movie, but because it would give us some new common ground to discuss. Whether it was good or bad, we were experiencing Barbie together, and it would give us something to talk about and, hopefully, bond over.
As the lights went up in the theater and Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice’s “Barbie World” played over the credits, my sister turned to me and said, “That was one of the best movies that I’ve ever seen!” I had enjoyed the movie a lot too, but Veronica was practically bubbling over with all of the things that she wanted to talk about. My sister is generally pretty reserved, especially lately, generally opting to be an observer instead of a leading force of a conversation. But this movie animated her in a way that I had not seen in a while. Everything from the comedy to the movie’s discussion on what it means to be a woman excited her, and we had a very lively conversation on the ride home about the film.
We, of course, started discussing the fun parts of the movie: how funny it was, how lovely the production design and costumes were, and how it perfectly captured what it felt like to play with Barbies (which then led to reminiscing about how we would play dolls together and realizing that we never actually had a Ken.) This then evolved into a larger conversation about the movie’s themes and thoughts on being a woman. Some people have dinged the movie for offering an entry-level view of feminism, being able to see it with a teenager was very special because it gave her language and access to concepts that she is just starting to wade into in a meaningful way in her life. From our conversation, I gleaned that Barbie put on the screen ideas and scenarios that she has just started to engage with and has been thinking about. As she is becoming a young adult, she is recognizing societal barriers and prejudices that are in place, and the film has given her positive messaging on how to handle and address them. I’m grateful that my sister has a movie like this to serve as a pathway into exploring these important concepts further, and I’m so happy that I was there to be able to talk through them and offer any insights that I had afterwards. Oftentimes, older siblings infantilize their younger siblings long after they have grown up and into their own person. Having Barbie open up these more mature types of conversations between us has helped me recognize and appreciate the young adult that my sister is becoming instead of just seeing her as my little sister.
In the days after seeing Barbie, my sister and I started to get back into our old groove. It started with small, silly things like trying to master the dance that Allan does at Barbie’s party or texting each other things about being Kenough or referencing something’s Kenergy. However, that started slowly morphing into more vulnerable conversations about life and general things. I sincerely believe that being able to have the more adult conversations about what it means to be a woman that the movie spurred has led to this new refound openness between us. Much like how they helped me recognize Veronica as her own person, our discussions on the movie’s feminism seems to have reminded her that I am not just her uncool older sister; that I am, instead, someone who she can talk to and confide in about whatever she may be experiencing. Just like Barbie helped Gloria and Sasha recover their bond and recalibrate it, Barbie has helped us not only reestablish our sisterhood, but elevate it to new levels that meets us at our current life stages instead of lingering in the past.
Aside from reigniting my relationship with my sister, I have noticed that Barbie has seemed to encourage women to be more passively friendly to each other in general, mirroring the supportive feminine energy of Barbieland depicted in the film. This can be seen most clearly in the “Hi Barbie!” trend that has started happening in real life after the movie premiered. Perfect strangers are taking time out of their day to wave at other women and say hello to them, sometimes with some kind of compliment attached to it. Prior to Barbie, women would passively give each other compliments, but the added greeting before it somehow makes it seem more special. Being able to see how the Barbies all supported and cared for each other so openly seems to have encouraged women in real life to try and add a bit of that into their orbit. For just a moment, we are able to pretend that we live in the feminine utopia of Barbieland instead of a world that seems to be actively working against women. Even the simple act of collectively wearing pink has fostered a feeling of community that we don’t always feel in our everyday lives.
Part of what makes Barbie so special in the way that it has united women is that it has done so in a way that is joyful. In the past six years, the main events that have brought large groups of women together have been protests. Whether it be the Women’s March in 2017 or the protests over the overturning Roe v. Wade, these events have led women to band together out of fear and/or anger. Even though they created unity, most women would agree that that is not the way that they would have preferred for it to have happened. This is why the sisterhood that Barbie has fostered has been met with such enthusiasm: it is extremely low-stakes and rooted in joy. Saying “Hi Barbie!” to a random woman or wearing pink to the theaters allows women to escape to the fantasy of Barbieland where it is like this every day.
The real-world bonds that women are experiencing during and after Barbie screenings all relate back to the film’s central theme of the importance of female relationships. Whether it be the Barbies, Gloria, Sasha, and Barbie, or Ruth Handler and Barbie, the movie centers all of these different connections and argues that they are the most pivotal relationships that these women have. These bonds are the ones that are the most fulfilling to the characters. By centering platonic and familial female love in such a prominent way, the movie has reminded its viewers how important it is to nurture and nourish our bonds with each other. The supportive world of Barbieland is so aspirational, that now we can take it upon ourselves to try and capture a bit of that magic in our world. I look forward to continuing to watch Barbie with different women, whether that be my mom, friends, or just strangers in my local multiplex because, even if just for a moment, Barbie invites a unique type of female bond that I have yet to experience with any other piece of media.
I’m not sure if the reconnection that Barbie has given Veronica and me will last forever. As we keep growing, our lives will inevitably lead us in different directions and towards different paths, away from each other. One thing that the movie did give me for sure, though, is the reassurance that there will always be things that bring us back together. And even if there is not, we can always just rewatch Barbie and step back into Barbieland.
Emily Desormier is a writer based on the New Hampshire Seacoast. After completing her master’s degree in English Lit, she has turned her energy towards culture writing. When not consuming pop culture, Emily can be found hanging out with her dog.
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