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Barbiecore and Hollywood’s Use of Pink


Image Credits: GETTY IMAGES. Design: SASHA PURDY/STYLECASTER.


The release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie has caused the color pink to flood the internet and the streets in the past couple of months. The arrival of “Barbiecore”—the widespread fashion trend of excessively pink, stylish outfits inspired by the iconic doll—has produced a summer overflowing with pink heels, pink leather pants, and pink crop tops. While some people may have grown tired of this bubblegum explosion, eagerly waiting for the trend to run its course, I would be ecstatic if the love for Barbiecore remained permanent.


The color pink has a complex history within Hollywood, as it has often been used as a symbol for femininity in both uplifting and demeaning ways. Unlike some Hollywood films, Barbie harnessed the power of pink to create a positive influence on mainstream culture. It has cultivated more supportive attitudes between women, and it increased confidence in unabashed femininity—those who dress up in pink can feel empowered while also having fun with their fashion choices.

Identifying with pink is a touchy topic for a lot of women, as Western culture recognizes it, for better or worse, as a feminine color, and femininity carries a lot of weight. Beginning at a young age, many girls reject the social prison of pink in an attempt to distance themselves from the restrictive identity of a “girly girl.” If they wear pink dresses and pink bows, will their peers and teachers accept that they may also want to play sports and video games, or learn math and science? Perhaps a 10-year-old already realizes subconsciously that feminine gender presentation may cause men and even other women to view her as weak, dumb, and not serious. Best to avoid the shame of being a woman. Even in adulthood, many women continue to struggle with the shame they internalized early on, feeling that they shouldn’t exhibit traditionally “girly” traits such as a love for pink in serious environments. To make matters worse, women may see demeaning representations of pink in the media, which exacerbates this phenomenon of shame.


By creating a link between pink and undesirable femininity, the media weaponizes the color against proud femininity. Take J.K. Rowling’s creation, Dolores Umbridge, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003). A psychotic, power-hungry child-torturer, rivaling even the evils of Voldemort, Umbridge is decked out in pink, drowns her office in rosy decorations, and, as the cherry on top, is obsessed with cats. So, it’s not just the crazy cat lady archetype that ties Umbridge to a negative stereotype of women, but also the use of pink that is implying ultra-femininity, and the connection is being exploited in a twisted way. By obsessively associating Umbridge’s character with pink, Rowling unfairly construes the idea that normative femininity is unpopular and insufferable—just like Umbridge. Perhaps Rowling is yet another woman instilled with the shame of associating with pink, and her internalized misogyny seeped into her character design. By doing so, she perpetuates a harmful cycle, using her power to indoctrinate impressionable children with the idea that femininity is shameful.


In contrast to Rowling, Elle Woods learns to accept her pink-adorned femininity in Legally Blonde (2001), despite others showing distaste for her display of feminine attributes in spaces historically controlled by men. Upon attending Harvard Law School, Elle combats an array of sexist stereotypes for being overtly feminine: She is not smart enough, serious enough, or determined enough. As many real women have done, Elle tries to conform to Harvard’s patriarchal expectations, partly by trading pink for more somber colors. In the end, she realizes that being unapologetically feminine, being herself, is an asset, and she returns proudly to the courtroom in a fuschia dress and matching heels. Elle refuses to let sexism diminish her potential, and instead accepts her pink persona as a form of empowerment. She also teams up with other women who identify with femininity in their own unique ways, and they work together to dethrone Professor Callahan, a misogynistic but successful lawyer. This echoes Barbie’s portrayal of the dolls teaming up to stop the invasion of patriarchy.


More recent than Legally Blonde, the Barbie movie is continuing to champion the presence of pink in fashion trends today. Barbie resonated with audiences in theaters across the world, inspiring viewers to change both their wardrobes and their attitudes towards pink. Why was the movie so influential? Star-studded cast and intense marketing aside, many women clearly wanted a movie that, like Legally Blonde, uplifts femininity as worthy of being the star of the show. Unlike films that make women appear strong by emphasizing their masculine traits, Barbie accepts that femininity itself can be what makes a woman a strong physicist, strong president, or strong lawyer. Feminism doesn’t have to mean women are the same as men—it can mean that femininity is just as worthy as masculinity. By utilizing this dimension of feminism, Barbie sparked a viral movement that encouraged many women to deconstruct their fear of wearing pink and being viewed as too feminine or not serious. That’s a great reason to be flaunting your pink outfits this summer, this fall, and beyond.


As a result of Barbie’s version of feminism, Barbiecore has encouraged these two trends: being confident and proud of yourself, and women supporting other women who are confident and proud. Just as the Barbies in the movie are enthusiastic to reaffirm each other’s beauty, strangers on the street in the real world can mirror this phenomenon and compliment each other’s Barbiecore outfits. Of course, since femininity encompasses many things besides a single color, you don’t have to wear pink to be your own beautiful Barbie. But, many of us Barbie fans feel a sense of freedom in embracing pink that allows us to ignore stereotypes and have more fun. Because the color is versatile, Barbiecore outfits can be cute and soft, bold and suggestive, fun and bright, or weird and chaotic. All of these combinations can be beautiful and unique representations of femininity. By supporting one another and helping other women see that their femininity is beautiful, we assert that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.


Pink is more than just a color. Dousing a villain like Dolores Umbridge in pink isn’t a random choice, because whether purposeful or not, it produces harmful implications about femininity. Hollywood and all other realms of media need to understand that they hold some responsibility for societal perceptions of gender through symbols such as color. Media creators have the power to make these perceptions positive by building a connection between pink and confidence, empowerment, and fun. Barbie understood this assignment and used pink to help women feel strong this summer. But society’s love affair with pink and proud femininity doesn’t have to just be a summer fling. Keep wearing that pink, Barbie.

 

Grace Stephenson is a sophomore in the College studying linguistics with a minor in biology. Her favorite Barbie is Weird Barbie.

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