Weird Barbie and Autism, Let’s Talk. – Sarah E Boon

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of autistic masking, I would recommend my previous blog post about autistic masking before reading this one ‘Autism and Masking’

A few weeks ago I posted a meme after watching the Barbie film, comparing Stereotypical Barbie’s character as representing autistic people masking with Weird Barbie representing autistic people unmasked. To my surprise the meme took off and went viral on both Twitter ( or X) and Instagram!

Although it was a brief observation I made into a meme,  the question is, why did it resonate so much with many fellow auties?

Well to start off with, Stereotypical Barbie embodies everything that women have been told is the ‘ideal’ for many decades in western cultures, including how she thinks and behaves (even if it is not explicitly stated). Stereotypical Barbie is coded as a neurotypical person in the film and is celebrated for meeting every societal norm. For autistic people who mask, we do it out of a need to be seen as ‘normal’ to avoid discrimination for being ourselves in public. That is why when masking our autism, it can feel like we are trying to come across as somebody who meets all the social norms. And for those of us who are feminine, our masking can mean we present in a way which is similar to Stereotypical Barbie when socialising.

However, there is more to the meaning behind the meme than Stereotypical Barbie representing ‘normal’ (which definitely includes being neurotypical as part of that package). Weird Barbie is undoubtedly a representation of unmasked autistic people. Firstly, how the other Barbies respond and talk about Weird Barbie.

“You know, you’re gonna have to visit Weird Barbie.

I have never had to visit Weird Barbie.”

That’s because you’ve never malfunctioned. I heard that she used to be the most beautiful Barbie of all, but then someone played with her too hard in the Real World. And now she’s fated to an eternity of making other Barbies perfect while falling more and more into disrepair herself. That, and we all call her Weird Barbie both behind her back and also to her face. She’s so weird.”

Barbie Movie (2023)

Weird Barbie is seen as an outcast and as a broken person for not being similar enough to the other Barbies, which is an all too common experience for many autistic people, especially if we are not masking too. Weird Barbie is seen as a failure for changing and is viewed as ‘falling more and more into disrepair herself’. She used to be seen as the ‘most beautiful Barbie’ before ‘someone played with her too hard in the Real World’, which is actually a good analogy as to why some autistic people unmask. Sometimes when we are facing too much from the world, we lose our ability to mask  (as it often requires a lot of conscious effort which becomes tiring very quickly). When we unmask, some people will  start to see how big the differences our between us, and will either distance themselves from us or see us in a more negative light. The same happened to Weird Barbie after she was played with too hard in the real world, which ultimately meant she became an outsider in Barbie Land. After Weird Barbie became weird, the only time the other Barbies are prepared to interact with her is when there is a problem they can’t solve. These type of one sided friendships is a situation many autistic people have experienced too, where people are only respectful towards us when they want something from us.

Weird Barbie isn’t trying to hide who she is during the film, and does things that are perceived as ‘not normal’ by the other Barbies. That’s why Weird Barbie represents unmasked autistic people who are living authentically. Both with how she acts, and how the other Barbies respond to Weird Barbie’s authentic self. Although I don’t think we see enough of Weird Barbie’s character in the film to fully conclude if she is coded as autistic or not, but her experience of not fitting into societal norms in Barbie Land is what makes her relatable to many autistic people. Nevertheless, from what we did see of Weird Barbie in the film, it is fairly obvious to me that she is coded as neurodivergent in some way.

Like many films, Barbie is a reflection of our world in more than one way. However, what I think the filmmakers did unintentionally was show how autistic and other neurodivergent people are treated in our society for not being ‘normal’ through Weird Barbie’s character.

If you enjoyed this post and like to support my writing, I would be forever grateful if you could buy me a coffee (or tea in my case).


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