Of course, the titular character of the film Barbie is the protagonist as well, but it’s likely one will pay more attention to Gloria and her words after seeing the film than to Barbie herself. After all, she does represent a chunk of us who are watching the film. Gloria is everything Barbie is not; firstly, she’s not made of plastic (literally or figuratively), she’s human, and she’s got flaws, unlike Barbie, who is meant to be perfect.
Instead of having Barbie be the aspirational icon for Gloria’s tween daughter, Sasha, Barbie is the epitome of perfection in Gloria’s eyes. Played impeccably by America Ferrera, who can really hold our attention when she’s giving a monologue (Ugly Betty would be proud). It’s interesting to note that the actress herself has no history with the legendary doll, and yet, without wanting to be in the dreamhouse herself, she persuades us to look further into it. There’s something very unironic about the way she portrays this character—she suddenly believes Barbie is in the real world and there for her specifically.
We can assume Gloria is having an early midlife crisis and drawing Barbie in different scenarios that are far from ideal, i.e., crying, with cellulite, and flat feet (how could she!). The sadness in Gloria is represented in Barbie, and she begins to cry soon after she comes to the real world. Barbie has visions of herself being played with by a little girl and her mother. She takes it for granted that she’s there for the kid, but in reality, she’s brought to the real world to help Gloria get over her sadness.
Gloria is so used to not being able to do anything for herself that she immediately steps into the rollerskates to join Barbie in Barbie Land. There are a lot of parallels between Gloria, Sasha, and Barbie. The woman who has loved Barbie all her life and also happens to be the assistant of the Mattel CEO is very much involved with the doll throughout her life but also happens to be losing sight of who she is and what she wants for herself amidst the chaos. It’s like a coming-of-age story for three different leads, but they’re all somehow connected. For Gloria to realize that she is happy in the real world, she needs Barbie to help her, and Barbie needs Gloria to take her back to her perfect self (or so she thinks).
This journey of self-affirmation starts right at the bottom, where Gloria is conjuring depressed Barbies while still drawing perfect illustrations. When Barbie gives up, Gloria does too. That’s how this relationship works, right? But when Sasha and Gloria are about to leave Barbie Land, Sasha is able to remind Gloria of all the things she has rather than focus on the things she doesn’t. Gloria used to think Sasha hated her, but on the short journey of just entering Barbie Land, Sasha was able to see the importance of expressing her love to her mom, who was hurting so much.
With the support of Sasha and Barbie, Gloria is able to remind herself of the good things in life. She gets the confidence to go back and help Barbie because, quite frankly, the world depends on it. Gloria makes the glorious decision to remind Barbie of how perfect she is by reciting the many reasons a woman is considered unfit in the real world. What we know is that Gloria is the only woman who works for the Mattel corporation; in the span of the movie, the only other women we see in the building are Barbie herself and the ghost of Ruth Handler. Gloria shows subtle hints of having immense energy and enthusiasm behind those pink shoes and black corporate outfits.
Gloria’s monologue is so real that, at some point in the middle of it, every human who identifies as a girl or woman will feel seen or heard. From appearance to motherhood to wanting power, she covers all the topics that every one of us may want to bring up at some point but fail to for fear of more judgment. There’s a fine line between sounding preachy and affirming, and Gloria nails the second one. If that monologue doesn’t leave you teary-eyed, your heart is more plastic than Barbie’s. Gloria’s words are so powerful that they wake the other Barbies up from the Ken-wash (Ken-brainwash).
What we see in Gloria is that girlhood doesn’t have to die down at age 6, but it can grow with us and be a part of us for the rest of our lives. It’s Gloria’s love for Barbie that brings her to the real world and takes her on an unforgettable adventure. It’s her memories of playing with her daughter that remind her that she’s known good times too. Finding yourself is always a team effort, and Gloria is on top of her game there. In the end, Gloria finds happiness by speaking her mind and telling the Mattel CEO to make an ordinary Barbie. All she wants is to be seen, and in the form of an ordinary Barbie, she would have that. It took her traveling to a whole new world to be able to see that, though. Fortunately for us, we can see her journey through this movie and self-actualize without journeying into a fictional land made of pastel and pink plastic (although that sounds extremely tempting).