‘Barbie’-Inspired Advice to My College-Bound Daughter

The Barbie movie, with Margo Robbie, brought in a staggering $162 million during its opening weekend and has now crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office. Plenty of ink has already been spilled, explaining the phenomenon. I barely paid attention…until my teenage daughter announced she wanted to see it.

We were past the Barbie stage — or in her case, she’d never been in it. My teen daughter never owned a Barbie doll. I’d had a tub full. She’s eschewed pink in favor of blue. Pink was my go-to while growing up in the 70s. She asked for a soccer jersey. I’d wanted the Barbie Star Traveler MotorHome RV Camper. It didn’t matter that.

Barbie — with blonde hair, blue eyes, and anatomically impossible measurements — didn’t look like me.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are stars of “Barbie.” (Credit: Jean_Nelson/Depositphotos.com)

I wanted to parent my daughter without exposing her to Barbie

Eventually, I began to stray — I cheated on Barbie. Heck, I even cheated on Ken. I got a Cher doll. Taller, darker skinned, and with black hair and similar eyes, Cher came closer to resembling me. I sent Cher — and Barbie — on a date with G.I. Joe, who was “on loan” from my younger cousin. My evolution had begun.

By the time I was pregnant and in my 30s, Pretty in Pink and Barbie were entirely in my rearview mirror. Armed with a law degree, I was determined to defend against any prevailing girlie-girl culture that sought to put my daughter in a box. I did my research. I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I studied the whole oeuvre on parenting girls.

And then…nothing. I’d prepared to litigate a case that didn’t happen. Life went on. And then, one day this summer, my teen announced she was going to watch the Barbie movie with friends. They all wore pink. She riffled through her brother’s closet for the only pink-white-and-black soccer jersey in the house.

While I was busy living my life, Barbie had changed

It turns out my worry was misplaced. While I was busy, Barbie had changed, too. She’d held and shed jobs and careers but still had a girl squad to support her. She’d changed her look, upgraded her home, and seen the world. Ken was still present, but she had plenty of adventures without him.

She was a doll woman who refused to be put in a box. Screenwriter Greta Gerwig had subversively stood the beginnings of Barbie culture on its head and engendered a crossfire debate. Instead of bra burnings, we had Barbie burnings.

And so…what’s a teen to make of this? Or her mother? With all the confidence of GenZ girl power, my daughter thought the movie was fun and hilarious. With the advantage of plenty of hindsight, I was more cautious. However, you look at this cultural moment, I have to tell her this: never underestimate the power of pink.

8 pieces of advice for my daughter as she leaves for college

So, on the cusp of my teen becoming an adult and heading off to college, here’s my advice to her about the road ahead: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We’re still having societal debates about the role of women and girls. Something will always be burning…Rome…bras…Barbies.

1. Embrace pink, or don’t

Some women and girls have subverted the traditional message of Pink by embracing it. Now it can signal girl power, breast cancer awareness, and, again, masculinity (the Victorians dressed their boys in pink).

2. Understand it. Learn from it. Decide if you want it

If you can’t see the box, you can’t break out of it. On the path ahead, there may be limitations on you and your ambition and your growth. You may pick the “wrong” college, the “wrong” major, or the “wrong” job. But you can’t break out until you see it. On the other hand, a box is just a box — and with any luck, it’ll turn out to be flimsy (pink) cardboard.

3. Don’t be afraid to change and evolve

You got this. After all, you just wore pink for the first time in years. Barbie changed with every decade of her 60+ years. She’s still in the game because she upped her game.

4. Stay hopeful

5. Test out positive psychology

6. Surround yourself with good people

7. Embrace the possibilities

8. Use your imagination

You’re in the driver’s seat for the road ahead. Enjoy the rosy horizons.

More Great Reading:

How Barbie Got Me Through Childhood and Motherhood

About Anna DePalo

Anna DePalo takes her morning coffee with chocolate. A mom of two teens, a native New Yorker and a child of Italian immigrants, she graduated from Harvard, practiced intellectual property law and now calls writing her passion. Find out more about her and her USA Today best-selling rom-com books at her website.

Read more posts by Anna

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.