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‘Barbie’ Film Awakens China’s ‘Pink Shame’, Reviving Feminist Icon

 For the first time, you don’t need to look at the ticket stubs, and you don’t have to ask questions. You can identify the movie that will be shown here by just looking at the proportion of female audience waiting at the entrance of the theater and the shades of pink outfits. When people dig out a pink dress with a sense of ritual and go to a movie like a party, it has already won.
  ”Barbie” may be one of the most-discussed movies of the summer, even though it’s not doing as well in mainland China as it did stateside. “Barbie,” released on July 21, grossed $155 million domestically in its opening weekend, making it the highest-grossing opening of 2023 and the fourth-highest weekend contribution ever in the U.S. By.
  In China, this film, which has no prior publicity and promotion, has women, especially young girls as the absolute protagonists, and the target audience is mainly young girls. It was seriously “underestimated” by the theater’s filming manager, and the first day of the film was only 2.4. %, the box office on the first day was only 8.3726 million yuan. As a result, many film critics and KOLs who have watched the film in advance have spontaneously called for an increase in the number of films for “Barbie”. Film critic Shadan is one of them. In his opinion, it is “a perfect film belonging to this era”.
  Therefore, despite the unfavorable start, “Barbie” relied on the high quality and high topicality of the film to trigger a huge response from the audience. On Saturday, July 22, when only 500,000 to 600,000 viewers watched “Barbie”, it became the number one hot search on Weibo’s main list, with a score of 8.9 on Douban. In the next few days, as the popularity of the Internet platform rose exponentially, the market quickly gave feedback, and “Barbie” achieved double increases in film schedule and box office one after another. The box office has already exceeded 100 million in the four days of its release, and the film schedule has increased to 10%. The predicted box office has also been raised from more than 60 million to 300 million. Many netizens left messages on the platform saying that “tap water” just lifted “Barbie” out of the “ICU”.
“cured my pink shame”

  Among the audience who came out of a movie theater on the East Fourth Ring Road after the screening of “Barbie”, a man named Lu Hao told China News Weekly that he came with his girlfriend. The film didn’t fit his own aesthetics, but he didn’t feel offended as some male netizens said on social media. He felt that “although the film is about women’s issues, it is generally relatively mild.”
  Film critic Sha Dan believes that since gender issues are involved, it is normal to have some disputes due to the differences in understanding brought about by different genders, but “Barbie” just happens to be quite clever, and it can even be said to be “cute” to some extent. “It uses the ‘flipback’ method to invert the Barbie world and the real world of human beings. It actually tells the audience that in a world where equal rights cannot be equal, in any position, even if it is the so-called dominant gender, life is better. It will not be easy.” Shadan told China News Weekly.
  The story of “Barbie” begins in the fairy tale world “Barbie Paradise” where the Barbies live. Waking up one day, the classic Barbie finds that something is wrong with her life. She has emotions such as anxiety and sadness that do not belong to Barbie’s world. It became the same as ordinary people, with the soles of their feet on the ground. So, she walked into the real world inhabited by human beings, looking for answers. At first glance, this pink-bathed comedy based on children’s toys might not fit the blockbuster mold of the age of superhero movies, much less an arthouse film with a sharp point of view, no real villains in it, or even a real villain at all. The real cruel side of the “villain” is not shown, so the so-called conflicts, contradictions and solutions are like “playing house”.
  But it still hits the nail on the head, because so many women who never knew each other burst into laughter in the movie theater because reality is reflected in the game. Those absurd jokes full of plastic and artificial feel, like rough cartoon stick figures, outline the true feelings of women being ignored and misunderstood in daily life: what kind of world full of colored glasses do women live in? Why do women feel uneasy traveling alone into unfamiliar environments? What inexplicable embarrassing situations and anxieties women face…
  Stateside, women’s issues, combined with the emotional resonance of Barbie, a classic toy that was born in 1959, give the movie a unique edge. Let’s enjoy the movie together. No matter how old they are, they will think that this movie is for them.” The
  popularity of the movie also boosted the sales of Barbie’s accessories, and even revived the color of “dead Barbie fans”, which is difficult for most people to control . Yes, Barbie seems to be the only toy IP with a name on the color spectrum.
  The pink trend is also fermenting in the mainland. The Barbie co-branded area of ​​a MINISO physical store in Chaoyang District has basically sold out the popular styles. The clerk told China News Weekly that when the movie is released for two or three days, bags, towels, slippers, The more popular co-branded items such as socks and clips are sold out, and it will take some time to replenish them. A netizen left a message in the comment section of the film saying: “Barbie not only popularized equal rights, but also healed my pink shame for many years. Among the various humiliations targeted at women, age-shaming ranks in the top three. Since the age of 8, if If I dare to wear pink again, I will be called ‘pretending to be young’.” In Xiaohongshu, many “Little Sweet Potatoes” in first-tier cities are asking for purchasing agents from “Jimei” in third- and fourth-tier cities, and the joint-branded products there are still available. Relatively sufficient.
  The sales trend of peripheral co-branded products is to some extent a reflection of the box office. According to the statistics of Lighthouse Professional Edition, first- and second-tier cities contributed about 74% of the total box office of “Barbie”, and the four cities with the highest proportion of film scheduling were Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing. In this summer season with strong players, the theme and cast of “Barbie” are not deep enough, which is an important reason why its box office is far behind its ratings.
  ”In recent years, the tedious and boring Hollywood has overdrawn the trust of domestic audiences, causing “Barbie” to suffer, and only received a very low share of rare films on the first day of its release.” Film critic Sha Dan told China News Weekly “Said, “In addition, there is a certain threshold for equal rights and women’s themes. It requires a certain level of moviegoers who are usually concerned about and willing to participate in social dialogues about gender. .”
  In China, the Barbie doll itself is not sinking enough. This 64-year-old doll did not enter the Chinese market until the beginning of the 21st century. At the beginning of the new century when the “study first” parenting concept occupies an overwhelming advantage, whether it is a “sexy” image or a lack of educational meaning “change” “Pretend”, “make-up”, “love” and other games are far from the values ​​of Chinese parents, and being rejected is almost an inevitable fate. In March 2009, when Mattel spent a lot of money to open the 6-story flagship store of Barbie on Huaihai Road, the most prosperous area in Shanghai, it encountered extremely cold treatment from Chinese consumers. Only two years later, the flagship store declared closure. Although many people know Barbie because of its huge brand awareness, they have no experience of being with her in childhood, let alone what she has done on the road to women’s independence.

  This time through the movie, everyone has to re-understand the Barbie doll who has always been regarded as objectifying women, with big breasts and no brains.
Pulling Out the Girl Trapped in the Motherhood Trap

  ”Barbie” parodied the opening scene of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which already explained the “initial heart” of this toy. The 64-year-old Barbie was born on the eve of the biggest wave of affirmative action in the United States. Before she was born, girls had only one kind of toy—a chubby doll in the shape of an infant. In the game, the little girl Play the role of “mother” naturally.
  At that time, not long after Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” was published in the United States, women began to think about what the book said: “Women are not born as women, but are formed…” A woman named Lu Ruth Handler’s mother was the first to notice that boys’ and girls’ toys were vastly different. Her daughter, Barbara, has little to do except to act as a mother for baby dolls and practice being a good wife and mother in advance, while her son, Ken, has all kinds of toys, and he can imagine himself as a fireman, a cowboy, a surgeon in the game… As a practitioner in the toy industry, Ruth hopes that her daughter can also have toys that can project her dreams. During a family trip, she created a brand new doll inspired by German cartoon characters and named it Barbie after her daughter Barbara.
  In 1959, Mattel, the toy company co-founded by Ruth and her husband Eliot Handler, debuted the first Barbie doll at the New York Toy Fair. The Barbie doll wore a sleek strapless black and white striped swimsuit and had her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. The slogan at the time was, “Barbie – a role model for girls”.
  The birth of the first generation of Barbie is like a god, bringing new value enlightenment to girls trapped in the trap of motherhood. Just like in the “Barbie” movies, the girls throw away the “baby”, tear off the apron, see “self” for the first time, and the little girls awaken from the role of “mother”. Barbie has an undisguised sexy figure, can change into various clothes, has no husband, no children, and instead has a self-sufficient work and life. They are no longer “children” who need to be taken care of by the girls, but their friends and even their future selves.
  In 1962, Helen Gurley Brown, known by Americans as a “legendary figure in media history”, published her most famous “Single Women and Sex”, known as the first document to oppose marriage and advocate women’s economic and sexual autonomy. declaration of rights. Three years before this book was published, Barbie was already delivering an original feminist message to little girls, only with objects rather than words.
  Once the Barbie doll came out, it quickly swept the American market, with sales reaching 300,000 in the first year, helping Mattel to become a giant in the American toy industry, and in the following decades, it has long occupied the leading position in the sales of toys under Mattel status. In an interview in 1977, Ruth Handler once said: “Every little girl needs a doll through which she can realize her dream of the future.” This is her vision for Barbie, and she hopes that Barbie can represent “Women Have Choices”. Back then, Barbie really did.
  In 1962, Mrs. Kennedy opened up her private living space in the White House to all viewers on television for the first time. Perhaps inspired by this, Barbie, who came out just three years ago, has her first house. There were books on the shelves, and on the wall hung the varsity pennant, a sign of a college education. There is no kitchen that symbolizes the functions of the family, but there is a TV and a record player, and there are pictures of her boyfriend Ken in the house, but there is only a single bed in the bedroom. 1962’s “Barbie’s Dream House” has set the key tone for every generation of the series to this day: She is a freelance career girl with a lot of money, in a relationship, living alone, and Ken is just a boyfriend.
  At the time, it was not easy for women to buy property on their own, and financial institutions often rejected mortgage applications from single or divorced women because they did not have a male co-signer. Credit discrimination against women in the United States was not abolished until the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974.
  In 1963, the fourth year on the market, Mattel released Barbie in Bachelor Dress—Barbie graduated from college! At the time, women in the United States had far lower college enrollment rates than men and had significantly higher dropout rates. In 1965, Barbie broke through herself again and became an astronaut who “landed” on the moon, four years earlier than Armstrong, and the United States had the first female astronaut who actually went to heaven in 1983. In 1973, Surgeon Barbie was launched, and in fact women made up only 9 percent of the US physician population at the time.
  In the 1960s and 1970s, when the female employment rate in the United States was still hovering at a low level, Barbie had already launched a colorful career, and continued to challenge to enter industries with fewer women in reality. Air Force pilots, paleontologists, rock stars, Computer programmer… Today, Barbie has had more than 150 occupations, and she has truly become a professional woman from a show girl.
  Since 1992, Barbie has participated in the US presidential election every four years, and all members of her campaign team are all women.

On July 18, a movie theater in Beijing held the Chinese premiere of the movie “Barbie”. Figure/Visual China
Fall from the altar to the gallows

  In 1971, at the peak of the second wave of feminism in the United States, Barbie made an important design change-from side view to direct view, no longer avoiding other people’s eyes, but confidently looking straight ahead. Mattel management compared it to Manet’s famous painting “Olympia”, because the confrontational gaze of the prostitute in the painting is considered to have a sense of liberation and resistance.
  This “confrontational gaze” is paid tribute to in the “Barbie” movie: as night falls, Ken closes his eyes and slowly approaches Barbie, while Barbie refuses Ken’s kiss with wide eyes, contrary to the traditional love story where the girl closes her eyes and waits passively It is self-evident who is the subject of the boy’s lips.
  But when Barbie bravely “stared confrontationally” ahead, she didn’t expect that with the rapid development of gender thoughts in reality, people’s eyes on Barbie have also changed.
  On Christmas 1993, many children who opened the gift box found that the Barbie doll had a rough voice and shouted “revenge”! This is a prank by the “Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO)” founded by American artist and social activist Igor Vamos. They sneaked into the toy store on Christmas Eve and exchanged hundreds of Barbie dolls with the sound boxes of American soldiers to protest. Gender stereotypes brought by Barbie – Mattel launched the talking Barbie doll in 1992. One of the sentences “math class is difficult” caused huge controversy. People think that Barbie is teaching girls to be beautiful than being smart and studying hard. .
  Even more striking was a 2006 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology that found that girls who had been exposed to Barbie dolls as children were more concerned about their figure than girls who had been exposed to other dolls. The biggest side effect of Barbie is that it makes little girls feel anxious about their body and appearance. This situation has even evolved a proper term-“Barbie syndrome”, which is based on Barbie’s appearance. Or plastic surgery to more closely match Barbie’s appearance. Ukrainian model Valeria Lukyanova and Russian model Angelika Konova, who are now popular on the Internet, all use Barbie dolls as a model for plastic surgery.

  Barbie quickly fell from the altar to the gallows as she displayed a seemingly “perfect” but unrealistic figure. When women began to question and rebel against the harsh aesthetic standards under the patriarchal system, the Barbie with plump breasts, thin waist, and slender body was considered a female image under the gaze of men, and it was a clear proof of the objectification of women in the patriarchal world, so it was criticized by the outside world. He was also snubbed and even boycotted by his parents.
  So when Barbie in the movie happily thought that she was still a friend and role model for girls, she was surprised to find that girls had long since abandoned her and even looked down on her. Off-screen, sales of Mattel’s Barbie dolls have plummeted since the beginning of the new millennium. Especially since 2012, when women’s consciousness has risen again, they have begun to challenge and resist only one ideal body shape, and the sales of Barbie dolls have entered a sustained period. Negative growth.
  At this time, Princess Elsa, the new generation idol of the girls, was born. Although in the Disney movie “Frozen” released in 2013, Elsa has the same perfect body as Barbie, but she is full of strength, she is in the high position of the queen and her true love comes from sisters. Elsa is undoubtedly more in line with the needs of the times Female spokesperson. In 2014, a study released by the National Retail Federation showed that Elsa replaced Barbie as the most popular toy among girls. More direct feedback comes from the market. In the second half of 2014, Barbie toys experienced the worst sales decline ever, as high as 16%.
  Times forced Barbie to make changes. In 2016, Mattel revolutionized Barbie’s iconic body by adding a few millimeters of width to her thighs and waist and shrinking her bust. The fashionable Barbie series released that year has four body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles. The three new body types include Chubby Barbie, Petite Barbie and Big Tall Barbie, meant to show that women come in all shapes and sizes. This revamp landed Barbie on the cover of Time magazine with the title “Can I Stop Talking About My Body Now?” In this way, the critique of Barbie’s inability to truly reflect modern women came to an end.
  After stepping down from the altar, Barbie, at the age of 60 in 2019, has the image of using a wheelchair and prosthetics to show her diverse beauty and confidence. It was also in this year that preparations for the first live-action Barbie movie began. During the few years of filming, more diverse images of the Barbie family have appeared: Barbie with vitiligo skin disease, Barbie with bald head, Barbie with Down syndrome… Barbie who once symbolized perfection began to move towards the imperfect reality, just like Barbie in the movie finally gave up the plastic paradise without worries, put down her tiptoes, chose reality, and became a real woman who would grow old and have cellulite but have a full name.
  The story is still going on, Barbie outside the play has not yet taken back the crown from Elsa, and Barbie in the play, awakening does not lie in regaining the paradise. Perhaps what Barbie is looking for, whether on or off the screen, is not necessarily to win or lose, but to get out of the shackles, face the imperfect life bravely, and discover the meaning of self-existence.

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