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How Barbie Came to Life

There’s plenty to consider about Barbie, but let’s start with her feet. Perfectly arched, but not quite demi-pointe—the ideal position to fit into any pump. They’re instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever played with the iconic doll. So when the trailer for the upcoming live-action Barbie movie opened with a shot of star Margot Robbie stepping out of Barbie’s marabou stilettos, still on tiptoes, the internet exploded. On TikTok, people attempted to mimic the viral shot with their highest heels. The Wall Street Journal interviewed a podiatrist about the physical impossibility of the moment. “I need to know everything,” tweeted Chrissy Teigen.

Robbie has answers: The shot took eight takes. She had to hold onto a bar to keep her feet flexed. And, yes, those are her feet. “I really don’t like it when someone else does my hands or feet in an insert shot,” she says.

Playing Barbie is complicated, and not just because it requires immense calf strength. I’ve reported on Barbie’s parent company Mattel for the better part of a decade and sat in on test groups with moms and their kids. Some parents say Barbie inspires their children to imagine themselves as astronauts and politicians. But others refuse to buy the doll—with her tiny waist and large breasts— because she has set an impossible beauty standard for their daughters, a problem that precipitated major changes to the doll’s look in 2016. A Barbie movie was always going to be fraught, and the studio marketing the film knows it. As the trailer posits, “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.”

Robbie adds, “If you feel indifferent about Barbie or haven’t thought about Barbie in years, this movie is also for you.”

When it was announced in 2021 that Greta Gerwig, who directed the Oscar-nominated coming-of-age stories Lady Bird and Little Women, would helm Barbie, fans were confused, surprised, and delighted. Maybe the movie would be an idiosyncratic, subversive, even feminist take on the doll, not just a commercial for Mattel. But like Barbie, the movie’s existence is an exercise in contradictions.

If you are wondering whether Barbie is a satire of a toy company’s capitalist ambitions, a searing indictment of the current fraught state of gender relations, a heartwarming if occasionally clichéd tribute to girl power, or a musical spectacle filled with earworms from Nicki Minaj and Dua Lipa, the answer is yes. All of the above. And then some.

It’s also the most anticipated movie of the summer—if not the year—which means a lot is riding on Barbie. Not just for Robbie and Gerwig, neither of whom has ever produced a movie on this scale, but also for Mattel. After a period of declining sales, a recently reinvigorated Barbie is ready for her big-screen debut. Barbie’s move to Hollywood is the brainchild of Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz, who came into the job five years ago with a vision to leverage the company’s intellectual property into a cinematic universe based on Mattel toys.


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