For Barbenheimer weekend, our family chose to divide and conquer, separating into traditional gender roles: the boys went to Oppenheimer and the girls to Barbie. After both movies ended, we agreed that at some point, we should see both films, because both tackle elements of the universal human experience from vastly different angles, and the universal human experience is worth studying and discussing.
And, if you aren’t that big into contemplating the universal human experience, they’re both just plain captivating and entertaining.
Barbie is the summer blockbuster no one saw coming, and yet something about the show has struck a chord with young and old, men and women alike. Hilarious and heartwarming, Barbie made me think about stereotypes and gender, mothers and daughters, corporations and power, but more than anything else, it made me think about identity. What makes me, me?
Like I said, if you aren’t big into processing the universal human experience, there’s plenty of comedy and tears that will make you love Barbie anyway, even without the existential reflection. But hang in there with me—there’s more to Barbie than a plastic doll comedy.
Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing
I grew up in a fairly traditionally gendered home, with a dad that brought home the bacon and a mom that fried it. My dad told me to pursue my dreams, whatever they may be, but the message I digested was that my highest aspiration was to become Midge—pregnant Barbie—attached to an Allan (or Ken), who was most adamantly not just an accessory, but the leading actor in the show called my life.
To be clear, no one said these things to me. Dad might as well have sung along with me to Faith Hill’s “Wild One”:
When she was three years old on her daddy’s knee,
He said you can be anything you want to be,
And yet, I somehow absorbed an entirely different message about what was expected of me. I lacked vision for what else I could do, that I could be both wife/mother and have career aspirations, that I could lean into the spiritual giftings I seemed to have been given and use them beyond the living room and kitchen.
I don’t know why I lacked these lenses for my own life.
I lacked these same lenses for reading the Bible. For years, I saw in Scripture only men—Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Matthew, Peter, Paul—even though Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Bathsheba, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Junia, Lydia, and more stood as well, in the space between. It took spiritual leaders, men and women alike, to shine the Light of the gospel on these characters that were otherwise hidden in my culture’s shadows, so that I could see the ways that God has valued women for their unique gifts for centuries.
Tucked between the familiar stories I had read again and again were the whispered lines and verses of women that had previously been unsung in my personal history. Suddenly, I saw them, their words and lives preserved for thousands of years declaring that their voices had value, their lives had meaning, their presence mattered to the King of the Universe. They were wives and mothers, yes, some of them, but they were also disciples, teachers, judges, singers, bakers, business women, and writers, praising the God-Who-Sees, rejoicing with the God-With-Us, and living their lives for the Great I Am.
I deeply value and celebrate my identity as a wife and mother, and I am grateful that these roles have been allotted to me, but it took me a really, really long time to recognize that perhaps I had something else to offer that was important too. Perhaps the gifts I brought to the world weren’t second to being a wife and a mother but of equal value. Maybe what I had to offer mattered, not condescendingly, like “How cute that you want to contribute!” but equally, because I, too, was made in the image of God, and I, too, could make a difference in such a time as this.
In many ways, Barbie is about seeing each other and ourselves differently, more fully. This is what happens when we open ourselves up to the love of God and the transformational power of the Holy Spirit—we are able to see ourselves more clearly and recognize just how loved we are. That changes things.
Love changes things. It gives us a spirit of strength and confidence where timidity and fear once reigned. It raises the voice of the voiceless. It empowers the powerless. It burns away the residue of worthlessness and reveals the treasure that was hidden there all along—the priceless pearl of this truth: you are a beloved child of God. You are loved and worthy of love just because you are. Just because you exist. Just because you were made in God’s image.
Embracing that truth—that God loves me wholly and that there’s nothing I can do to be separated from that love—sets me free to discover what else I could do. No failure or fault is going to block me from trying, from persevering, from daring to lean into that love more fully. Within the embrace of God’s love is abundant life, released from the shackles of insecurity and fear and death.
We are made for that love and freedom. We are made for that dance with grace, made to live in that community of joy, made to spin in his mercy, both men and women, both Ken and Barbie, the Spirit poured out on all people, of all shapes and sizes, all created in God’s image.
Just ask Barbie.