Halloweekend has come and gone, leaving behind horrendous hangovers and immense shame over financially exorbitant costumes in its trail. Even if you can’t quite remember the weekend, maybe the surprising lack of pink and blonde will jog your memory.
Summer 2023 will forever be known as the summer of Barbie. She graced the cover of Vogue, took over the internet, and launched collections at Zara, Aldo, and Forever 21. Barbie even renovated an entire mansion into her real-life Dreamhome and rented it on Airbnb. She really can do it all! Whether you enjoyed the movie or not, it's impossible to ignore the cultural impact as a heartfelt reminder of sisterhood (I’ll never forget the chorus of Hi Barbie as I entered and left the theater) and a hyper-feminine slap in the face towards the patriarchy. For any finance bros out there, she even stimulated the economy! With all this obsession over the most iconic toy character of all time, it seemed a natural assumption that she would take over the year’s biggest night in dressing up. Boy, were we wrong!
The apparent theme of Halloween 2023 was iconic, somewhat niche moments in pop culture. From replicating memorable Wendy Williams interviews (@yodelinghaley) to mind-blowing duo costume Abe Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth (@joshrichards), to the three girls with f**k-ass bobs dancing to “My Boyfriend’s Back” in neon sports-bras and booty-shorts (@eva.mauraa)…too niche? The levels of creativity were unprecedented and boundless. This is not to say Barbie was completely absent, but in terms of media presence and even walking the streets of NYC, she was rarely seen. Didn’t we all have an unspoken agreement to Barbify ourselves and make Halloween night a real-life Barbie Land? At what point did we collectively forsake the most iconic character of the year?
The lack of Barbification from your favorite celebrities can probably be attributed to the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) strike. SAG-AFTRA released a statement in mid-October, restricting its members from posting any “costumes inspired by struck content to social media,” as it could be considered promotion for the production companies they’re fighting against. While this was a bit of a bummer for avid Heidi-Klum-Halloween-party-costume observers such as myself, it was for the greater good. As for the rest of us non-SAG-affiliated people, we had free reign in terms of costume ideas, and there were plenty to choose from. Feeds were flooded with various takes on characters from The Bear, and Succession, as well as Marios, Luigis, and Ariels, but very few Barbies.
This silent shying away from Barbie reflects a more prevalent pop-culture craze within our generation. The one that deems feminine indulgences or fixations as cringe and embarrassing. Ladies, think back to the days of lying about your favorite color, citing anything but pink; claiming you hated Justin Bieber (no you did not!); and wanting to be considered “one of the boys” (if your favorite movie is Fight Club or anything directed by Quentin Tarintino, you might still be in this phase). As girls, we’ve been burdened with the idea of adhering to the male gaze from the moment we were first told our dresses were too short, or our voices too loud. Every action has been scrutinized, pitting us against each other with the threat of withdrawn male validation looming overhead—as if the absence of male approval is the worst fate a woman can succumb to. We’ve been forced to exist in a Kendom, with no Barbie Land to escape to. Recognizing these sentiments is nothing new. It's almost preachy at this point, but that was the entire message of the movie. Bringing these conceptualizations to the big screen in the most fabulous way possible, to bring women together.
With the release of the Barbie movie, we—for a brief moment—got over the hump of internalized misogyny and moved towards more pro-girl ideations (“girl-dinner,” “girl-math,” bows, Sandy Liang, etc.). Unfortunately, there’s still one annual hill that we continue to have problems surmounting: the female Halloween costume. The choice between dressing sexy (deemed “basic” or "slutty"), or dressing funny (deemed “cringe”) continues to plague young women every year, creating a rigid dichotomy, implying that a woman must choose one or the other and can never be both or neither. Wanting to be a sexy angel is looked down upon because you’ll be labeled desperate for male attention. Wanting to be Shrek is looked down upon because you’ll be labeled a "pick-me," desperate for male approval. This year, did we collectively refrain from dressing as Barbie—an idea rooted in sisterhood and being a “girl’s girl,”—because it would be too basic or cringe? Given the sheer amount of different Barbies depicted in the movie, there was so much room for creativity and individuality that there would have been nothing basic about it at all. We should be well past cringing at collective expressions of feminity. Were we afraid to offend the category of men who viewed the Barbie movie as a threat to masculinity? Was Ken's arc, not man-Kenough for them? After an entire summer of “girl’s girl” content and discourse, it’s heartbreaking that we still carry the notion of not wanting to be like other girls, in favor of the male gaze.
As seemingly girl-centric and cathartic as the Barbie movie was for so many of us, it took no time at all for us to forget the girlhood and revert back to our patriarchal thinking. In retrospect, maybe we internalized the movie a little too well, and maybe it’s natural that our thoughts continue to center around the male gaze. It shouldn’t be a surprise when the movie’s real star, intentionally or not, ended up being Ken (“I’m just Ken” will never, ever, leave my consciousness).