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What Barbie understands about mother-daughter relationships

By Suzanne Garfinkle-Crowell

05 Aug 2023 · 6 min read

informed Summary

  1. The central mother-daughter relationship in the Barbie movie highlights the tension and frustration often present in these relationships. The movie's tween-girl character, Sasha, criticizes Barbie for setting back the feminist movement and destroying girls' self-worth, reflecting her anger towards her own "perfect" mother.

When I was a little girl, I played with Barbie for the most basic reason you can imagine: She was so pretty. The cute outfits, the shiny blond hair, and all the fun she would have going around, looking like that. When I went to see the Barbie movie years later, as a grown woman, I had no doubt that the film was going to tackle the obvious issues related to how Barbie is seen: the impact that her sexualized body, created with the male gaze in mind, had on the generations of girls like me that she enthralled. But I was not prepared for how the movie would illuminate a different subject: the tension between mothers and daughters, and their often-frustrated need to see and feel seen by each other.

As a child psychiatrist working in New York City, I deal with mother-daughter issues on a daily basis. I recognized many of my patients in Sasha, the movie’s tween-girl character, who is given the honor of enumerating Barbie’s flaws. Addressing Margot Robbie’s Barbie, she says, “You set the feminist movement back 50 years. You destroyed girls’ innate sense of self-worth.” For someone who sees Barbie’s defects with such stark clarity, Sasha grows surprisingly emotional as she delivers this righteous takedown. Sure, she’s a tween rejecting her childlike self and her toys. Sure, she’s showing off for her friends. But this rant is so intense because the anger is real—because, as we learn, it’s personal: It’s about her mother.

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