While a Barbie doll is often associated with nostalgia and childhood joy, it's a different story for America Ferrera, who never played with a Barbie growing up. Like many women of colour, the Latina actor didn't feel a connection to the famous blonde doll with blue eyes and a thin white frame.
Despite not feeling seen or represented in the Barbie world, the 39-year-old has since immersed herself in it. Ferrera stars in the highly-anticipated Barbie movie, alongside the likes of Margot Robbie, Issa Rae, Dua Lipa and more. On face value, Ferrera's involvement seems like an unusual move for someone who felt so disconnected from Barbie dolls in her formative years.
Yet, the Greta Gerwig-directed film promises to challenge the brand's legacy of the stereotypical beach blonde Barbie, and Ferrera's proud to be a part of a project that champions all women as Barbies in their own right.
"I didn't really have a connection to Barbie," Ferrera told Refinery29 at a Sydney press conference. "While as a child, [maybe] I wasn't conscious of exactly why, I suspect it had a lot to do with not feeling seen and represented in that world."
"I remember when I finished reading the scripts, I was so thrilled as just a woman in the world, that this movie was getting made... that this version of this movie was getting made by these women, Greta and Margot."
Margot Robbie — who serves as the lead star and a producer on the film — first proposed the idea of making the Barbie movie five years ago. Basing the script on the doll from toy manufacturer Mattel, Robbie and Gerwig created a story that features many Barbies.
Issa Rae, who is a Black woman, plays President Barbie; South Asian actor Ritu Ayra plays a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Barbie; trans woman Hari Nef's Barbie is a doctor; and Sharon Rooney's Barbie is a plus-size lawyer. These are just a few of the many women who play Barbie in a world that's run by them... while each of the guys named Ken simply live in it.
Though Ferrera didn't enjoy the same childhood experience as others who played with a Barbie that looked like them, she's positive that this film will be the long overdue representation for the next generation.
"As a mother, I was so thrilled that this movie was getting made because it's a different world for young women and boys and non-binary people growing up in this day and age," she said.
"To be seen and to feel like they can look up into the things that we value in our culture... and that they're represented in it [the movie], means everything to us."
The actor recalled reading the script, wondering what "little girl America" would think of this parallel world that encourages her to be exactly who she is, free of years of whitewashed beauty standards that have been perpetuated by powerhouses beyond Barbie, such as Hollywood and in advertising.
She said she was trying to wrap her head "around the fact that somebody had expanded the Barbie world [to a place] where there was space for somebody like me".
"And not because I had transformed into some unattainable expectation," she said, "but because our culture has shifted to make space for people like us".
It's because of this that Ferrera said, "this movie feels important to me on so many levels."
Meanwhile, Issa Rae did grow up playing with Barbies, but said her mother and aunt only bought her "Black Barbies".
"I recognised in them, how important it was for them to play with dolls who look like them. And for me to play with dolls who look like them because they didn't have that opportunity," she explained.
When approached to be part of this film, Rae was wary that Hollywood can so often tokenise or stereotype women of colour to simply tick a diversity box.
"My biggest concern was just... no one wants to feel tokenised," she said, explaining she wanted to know who else would be a part of the project.
"Walking onto the set, all my fears were quelled because there was just so much diversity and diversity of all types."
As Rae and Ferrera continue promoting the film, the countdown is on until its July 21 release. With such a diverse cast lineup that also includes stars such as Alexandra Shipp, Nicola Coughlan, Ariana Greenblatt and more, here's hoping viewers of all ages can see a version of Barbie in themselves.