Even before Greta Gerwig’s bubblegum-pink Barbie movie landed in theaters in July 2023, Barbie-mania had already taken hold of the collective pop culture consciousness. When the movie finally released, all anyone could do was talk about it. Grown women, tweens, and teens flocked to theaters to see the film (multiple times, for some!).
There weren’t many people Barbie hysteria didn’t reach — but for those few holdouts, a prevailing sentiment seemed to surface: What’s the big deal about Barbie? Well, one TikToker recently put to words exactly what Barbie means to her and so many others, and it’s about a lot more than sparkly dresses.
Josie Balka is a poet and radio host who records readings of her work on TikTok. One of her newest poems — about her love for Barbie — has struck many people right in the gut.
“I never saw Barbie and wished for her body,” Balka begins. “I wished for her house and her friends and her hobbies. I only had one Ken, and that felt like plenty. And when I’d forget him, she didn’t feel empty.”
From there, Balka perfectly, poetically, and just a bit ironically describes Barbie’s life with a little girl. Her see-through house, her blank stare, the art and drama of cleaning out and perfectly rearranging that Dreamhouse — and then playing inside until it looked like a bomb went off again.
She points out that Barbie’s behavior often mirrors what’s happening in our lives, which tracks. Only, as children, we got to act out Barbie’s behaviors without all the stress we feel now as actual grown-ups. Or, as Balka puts it, “All grown-ups are people who used to be kids. We still act the same, just with more guilt attached. B ck when we would play, we weren’t wired like that.”
Then she pivots into how the sentimentality of Barbie shifts as we get older, transferring from children to their parents.
“Now Barbie sits with her friends in a crate that my mom will hold dearly ’til the end of her days,” Balka shares. “And that is still something I don’t understand. But, if I’m lucky enough, maybe one day I can.”
Cue the waterworks from Barbie-obsessed moms of Barbie-obsessed kids! While it’s so lovely to see our kids change, grow, and find new and different interests, we all have that crate of Barbies, that tiny onesie, that first silken “lovie” tucked away to remind us of the littleness… the simpleness.
And while many of us asked our moms to keep our Barbies for our future babes, some of us were still shocked to find those storage bins filled with blonde beauties in ballgowns buried between the Christmas decorations and the long-forgotten unfinished craft projects.
No matter which Barbie girl you were, finding your childhood still tucked neatly into a crate will make anyone cry. Smile, sure. But also cry.
“Now I’m an adult, wholly and truly. I don’t have Barbie dolls, just the Barbie movie,” says Balka. “I watched it on loop, with a little girl’s passion. Barbieland is everything I’ve ever imagined. And I’m sure all the girls who have dreams can concur that if the award goes to someone, it should be her.”
Of course, the award Balka alludes to is the highly coveted Oscar. It came as no surprise to anyone that the movie picked up quite a few nominations. But it was a shock to see that Ryan Gosling got nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ken while Margot Robbie was seemingly forgotten in her dramatic, hilarious, heart-wrenching portrayal of Barbie in that same film. (The irony would be laughable… if it wasn’t.)
Above and beyond any controversy, though, Balka’s poem reminds us that Barbie encompasses so much for so many people. As Gerwig’s movie so beautifully illustrates, Barbie is far more than “just” her enviable closet or perfect-in-the-box hair.