Reese Witherspoon's Barbie Movie Could Help Revamp The Doll's Image & Make Barbie Relatable Again
Reese Witherspoon is trying to do something that definitely won't be easy: make Barbie relatable. The actress/producer announced that her production company, Pacific Standard's next project will be a Barbie movie, but it won't be your average Barbie movie. Witherspoon has bought the film rights to Robin Gerber's 2009 biography, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her, which looks at the early beginnings of Ruth Handler, the cofounder of Mattel alongside her husband, and how in 1959 she created a toy that we still talk about today. But, now 56 years later, when we talk about Barbie it's rarely about Handler and how important her creation was at the time. Now, we're focused on the problems Barbie's created, from stereotypical gender roles to unattainable body goals. With Witherspoon's company at the helm though, she may finally be able to change Barbie's reputation for the better.
It's something Mattel seems hellbent on doing this year with commercials that feature little boys playing with Barbie in hopes of breaking gender stereotypes to another ad that suggests you "imagine the possibilities" with Barbie. The commercial features little girls acting out their Barbie job fantasies, from professor to veterinarian to soccer coach. The message here being that Barbie helps young girls become strong women. Barbie's had 150 different careers over her lifetime, including astronaut, registered nurse, aerobics instructor, and President of the United States (in the '90s, way before any woman made the ballot) — the hardest one to believe for many though is that she's a feminist. But that is her origin. She is a woman who could do it all and have it all way before real women actually thought that was a possibility.
Nowadays that seems silly. Barbie has come to mean something negative. Looking like a Barbie means you're plastic, a fake, or a bimbo. But that was not Handler's intention. She created Barbie in honor of her daughter, Barbara, after seeing her playing with paper dolls that looked like infants. Handler wanted to give her daughter a doll that looked like a woman, not a baby, and was someone who had choices beyond being a mother. Barbie could be who she wanted and wear what she wanted, as seen by the many accessories Mattel would create for her over the years. The doll's origin story is much purer than what we think of now, and getting to see that story come to life on screen could actually help people relate to the doll.
Handler is one of the most famous female entrepreneurs, but many don't even know her name. She was one of very few female toymakers in her day, and she came up with a toy that would quickly become a cultural phenomenon. This is a story many of us who grew up playing with Barbie need to know and who better to bring it to the big screen than Witherspoon, who has made it her mission to tell more stories about women?
If Witherspoon is willing to get at Handler's true story — the difficulty she had creating it, of being taken seriously — along with the controversy the doll has created over the years, she's bound to bring compassion to a topic many have already written off. Mattel has been trying so hard to change Barbie's reputation, but they need someone else to help to do that for them. Witherspoon needs to express the dichotomy of Barbie, a doll you can love for what she meant to you as a child and then hate for what she has come to stand for. These feelings are normal, even though they could be hard to process.
Luckily, Witherspoon, who is in talks to star as Handler in the film, has experience in this department. In Witherspoon's capable hands, Elle Woods became known as a strong female character, who could be smart and fashionable — even using her knowledge of haircare to win a court case. Witherspoon could give the Legally Blonde treatment to Barbie, and finally show there is more to the doll than what meets the eye.