More than just a blockbuster movie, “Barbie” is a piece of art that reflects on the story of Jesus. Throughout the movie, Barbie is a bright pink feminine version of the incarnate Christ.
I took a systematic theology course in seminary during which my professor covered the doctrines and themes of Christianity. She said that for each of us, there would be a special part of the story that holds the center of our faith.
Some might find meaning in the uniqueness of the trinity while others might rely on the theology of Christ on the cross. For me, it was the concept of incarnation—that God walked the earth in human form. So, when I saw “Barbie,” I was amazed to leave the theater feeling closer to the embodied God. (Spoilers ahead.).
“Barbie” centers on the story of “Stereotypical Barbie,” who experiences self-consciousness and thoughts of mortality for the first time. She must travel to The Real World to understand why she feels so mixed up. After meeting Gloria, the real-life woman whose adult anxieties inspired these changes, Barbie travels back to Barbieland where she faces a new set of challenges.
At the end of the movie, Barbie realizes she doesn’t want to go back to her perfect life. Instead, she walks off into a dream-like space with Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie. Ultimately, Barbie realizes that even in the face of problems in The Real World, she wants to become a human.
When news breaks at Mattel that Barbie and Ken have stumbled into The Real World, Gloria overhears this and says to herself, “Barbie? In The Real World? That’s impossible.”
It makes me think of anyone who has pondered the story of Jesus and said, “God? In the real world? That’s impossible.” And yet, somehow, it is possible. And that impossibility made possible is what makes the story of Jesus (and Barbie) so fascinating.
Like Jesus, Barbie enters the imperfect real world and meets people who do not understand or like her.
Like Jesus, whose feet must have hurt a lot after long days walking around and performing miracles, Barbie is confronted with the realities of a physical form.
Like Jesus, who wept at the tomb of Lazarus, Barbie is surprised by her ability to cry. “First I got one tear,” she says, “and then I got a whole bunch.”
Like Jesus, who I often joke “was not a Ken doll,” Barbie ends up with a completely human body. But it is that dream-like sequence of Barbie choosing to become a human that makes me tear up and reflect on incarnation.
Stereotypical Barbie turns to her creator and says, “I want to do the imagining, not be the idea. I want to be part of the people that make meaning, not the thing that’s made.” There’s something so vital to the idea of incarnation in that dialogue.
Christians serve a God that loved the world so much that God became human. No longer an intangible idea, God came to the world to be part of it and to transform it through the embodied person of Jesus.
And Barbie, just like Jesus, is aware that death is part of what it means to be human, but she is not afraid or upset. Because along with the mysterious reality of death, Barbie also gets access to visions of feminine human joy and says a warm-hearted and holy “yes” to being among the people.
I’m an ordained woman who grew up in a church that said I couldn’t be a minister because my sex was not the same as Jesus. That personal history makes the “Barbie” movie a revolutionary theological text for me.
“Barbie” portrays the beauty of the incarnate Christ through a deeply feminine experience and shows that this is a story for everyone—women included.
In both “Barbie” and the Bible, a nebulous idea in the cultural imagination becomes a real person made of flesh and blood, walking amongst us. And whether we understand it in the context of the ancient world or a hot-pink plastic landscape, I think it’s a story that’s pretty incredible.
Erin Phelps is a chaplain resident and ordained Baptist minister. She is a member of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Erin’s educational background includes a Bachelors in Communication, a Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies, and a Masters of Divinity.