UI professor examines ‘Barbie’ movie, use of the color pink

IOWA CITY — A professor of women’s and sexuality studies at the University of Iowa says she’s excited for this week’s release of the big budget movie, “Barbie,” that follows the iconic dolls Barbie and Ken as they transition into reality.

The UI’s Naomi Greyser says she’s intrigued to see how Hollywood introduces Barbie to the real world.  “I sort of love that the theme of the movie is she’s exiled from Barbieland because she isn’t perfect, which I feel like is this trend in movies right now, that we feel like we can identify with people’s imperfections,” Greyser says. “Barbie, for such a long time, was seen as too perfect in a way that people started to not identify with her, so it’s an interesting move for Mattel.”

Some early reviews criticize the film for reinforcing stereotypes about ditzy blondes, but others praise the movie for empowering girls and women — and Greyser says she’s fascinated by the pop culture impact.  “I feel like they want to market it to people who are really earnest and enjoy the delightfulness of wearing pink,” Greyser says, “and also market it to people who are ironic and critical and want to nod and wink and enjoy Barbie in sort of over-the-top ways, so I feel like it’s kind of both.”

The color pink is prominent in the movie. Practically everything is pink, including Barbie’s clothes, shoes, house, car — and even the sand at the beach. Greyser says pink has meant many different things over the centuries, and color offers help in coding things from social class to values to identity. “Men wore pink to express masculinity in the 19th century, and at that time, pink was gender neutral,” Greyser says. “It was maybe due to the darker colors of military uniforms that darker colors started to be associated with masculinity, and then we saw pink and pastels become associated with femininity.”

A pink triangle, for example, was used in Nazi Germany to identify homosexuals, but it’s since been rebranded by the larger LGBTQ community as a symbol of pride. In the 1950s, pink for girls, blue for boys became popular across Americana, but then morphed and was monetized a few decades later.  “Gender color coding took off once prenatal testing let people detect the sex of their babies before birth,” Greyser says. “In the 1980s, people started shopping for babies by gender, and it was a way for people to feel like they were personalizing their nurseries and also a way for companies to make more money by selling millions of different versions of things in different colors.”

She says “real men wear pink” is still a prevalent creedo in some social circles, but the color is also being used by corporations as a point of sale for women, what she calls the “feminization of pink.” “There’s this thing called the Pink Tax, where if you buy the same exact razor in pink instead of in blue, people pay more for it, for some reason, because people pay more for women’s products,” Greyser says, laughing. “So it definitely is not just about the color. It’s also about how corporations and marketers popularize it and spread it and it’s become a much bigger thing.”

Greyser says yes, she played with Barbies as a girl, but her fondest memories of the practice are more about sewing Barbie clothes for the dolls with her mom, and she adds, “My Barbies did -not- end up looking like the Barbies in the movie.”