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The Real Meaning of Barbiecore : How Fashion Is Redefining Feminism in Hot Pink

When photos of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling surfaced last month of the pair on the the set of Barbie in matching hot pink Spandex and neon rollerblades, the Internet gave a collective round of applause. There was no denying the indulgence of the moment, an ‘80s toy tableaux of nostalgia come to real life on two perfectly cast actors.

Nearly at the same time, Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly showed up to the musician’s “Life In Pink” Hulu documentary premiere sporting matching pink hair, a veritable 2022 version of Barbie and Ken; Must Read Stories.

And over in Rome, Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli dressed a handful of celeb friends in eye-popping looks from the brand’s fall ‘22 “Pink PP” collection (a Paris Fashion Week runway show that offered up only hot pink or all-black looks). Anne Hathaway walked the Spanish Steps in an embellished mini dress and the highest hot pink platforms for her biggest fashion moment since “Devil Wears Prada” 16 years ago.

So began the official “Barbiecore” movement, a fashion trend that already seems to have swept other summer trends this year (here’s looking at you, Coastal Grandma).

But the hot pink hues of “Barbiecore” aren’t entirely new. In fact, the color has a years-long trend arc that has been percolating within fashion since 2017.

Why 2017? Because on January 21, the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as U.S. President, more than 470,000 participants attended the Women’s March on Washington in the nation’s capital, a congregation that sparked an estimated nearly 5 million participants in the U.S. and 7 million worldwide.

Many of them were wearing a hot pink knitted hat with the ends pointed up. The homemade pink pussyhat became a calling card of Trump-era feminists, a call and response to the president’s cringing “Grab her by the pussy,” videotape.

Stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling Filming "Barbie" on the Venice Beach Boardwalk Pictured: Margot Robbie,Ryan Gosling Ref: SPL5322601 280622 NON-EXCLUSIVE Picture by: Tim Regas / SplashNews.com Splash News and Pictures USA: +1 310-525-5808 London: +44 (0)20 8126 1009 Berlin: +49 175 3764 166 photodesk@splashnews.com World Rights
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling on the set of the Barbie movie in Venice Beach in late June.
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barbiecore, margot robbie barbie, barbiecore trend, hot pink, Actress Margot Robbie Filming "Barbie" Rollerblading Scenes at Venice Beach Pictured: Margot Robbie Ref: SPL5322282 270622 NON-EXCLUSIVE Picture by: Tim Regas / SplashNews.com Splash News and Pictures USA: +1 310-525-5808 London: +44 (0)20 8126 1009 Berlin: +49 175 3764 166 photodesk@splashnews.com World Rights
Robbie on the set of Barbie in a hot pink ensemble.
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The pink pussyhat may be a rare sight now, as many have since debated how the hat’s symbolism might leave out transgender women, gender non-binary people and women of color in its messaging. But the color has remained — and subtly but steadily, designers, stylists, celebrities and influencers alike have turned to the hue to convey a variety of messages, from ditzy fun to feminist rebellion — and even those messages simultaneously.

After glancing back at all the ways the color has prevailed, from the decade-long pink hair trend to Lady Gaga’s hot pink arrival on the Met Gala pink carpet in 2019, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the “Barbie” reveal is captivating everyone.

And though it may be coincidence, the timing of the “Barbie” photos just days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 precedent of Roe v. Wade was ripe for interpretation. Robbie and Gosling as Barbie and Ken read like a Rorschach test for today’s feminist — or opponent.

One might have found relief or comfort in the return of a totem of a traditional feminine aesthetics, while others may have felt it as salt in the wounds of a progressive vision of women’s equality, dashed visions of power pantsuits being replaced by a “Stepford Wife” sensibility, aesthetically and ethically.

Megan Fox And Machine Gun Kelly Arriving At The New York Hotel After Having Diner Ahead Of His Hulu Documentary Premiere Machine Gun Kelly’s Life In New YorkPictured: Megan Fox,Machine Gun KellyRef: SPL5322412 280622 NON-EXCLUSIVEPicture by: Elder Ordonez / SplashNews.comSplash News and PicturesUSA: +1 310-525-5808London: +44 (0)20 8126 1009Berlin: +49 175 3764 166photodesk@splashnews.comWorld Rights, No Poland Rights, No Portugal Rights, No Russia Rights
Megan Fox And Machine Gun Kelly in New York for the premiere of the music artist s Life in Pink Hulu documentary.
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ROME, ITALY - JULY 08: Anne Hathaway attends the Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 22/23 fashion show on July 08, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Anne Hathaway on the Spanish Steps in Rome for Valentino s haute couture show, wearing a hot pink look from brand s all-pink fall 22 collection.
CREDIT: Getty Images

For others, it’s a chance to subvert the color pink and all that it stands for, reclaiming the hue and breaking the dual monoliths of the ditzy girly-girl and the brash, think-like-a-man feminists.

Pink has now become an equal-opportunity color, a choose-your-own-adventure hue that might just help to break down the stereotypes of women along the way and serve as sartorial armor for fight for women’s equality and a new era of feminism.

A Pink Evolution

Pink wasn’t always designated as the feminine color. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, parents dressed little boys in pink (and in dresses, as the garment was considered gender neutral up until the ages of 6 or 7) and little girls wore blue.

According to a 1918 article from Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, a trade publication, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

First lady Mamie Eisenhower looks at an oil painting of herself, a gift for her sixtieth birthday, in the White House Library in Washington, D.C., Nov. 14, 1956. In the portrait, the first lady is wearing the pink gown worn at the inauguration ball. Holding the portrait are, from left, Carrollyn T. Allen, Mrs. W.E. Dunkle, and Mrs. Edwin Hilson, all of New York City. They made the presentation on behalf of the National Citizens for Eisenhower-Nixon. (AP Photo)
First Lady Mamie Eisenhower looks at an oil painting of herself, a gift for her sixtieth birthday, in the White House Library in Washington, D.C., Nov. 14, 1956. In the portrait, the first lady is wearing the pink gown worn at the inauguration ball.
CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some historians, such as Jo Paoletti, author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America,” attribute the shift to pink for girls as a marketing play by manufacturers starting the in 1940s. Others look to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower’s 1953 Presidential Inauguration gown, a gigantic pale pink tulle and rhinestone studded ballgown with matching opera gloves and handbag, as a turning point for the color pink. In 1957, the film “Funny Face” starring Audrey Hepburn included a song called “Think Pink,” in which a fictional magazine staff markets the bubblegum hue as the ultimate symbol of womanhood, motherhood, elegance and taste. It further cementing the ultra-feminine connotations that have followed the color for the past six decades.

FUNNY FACE, Kay Thompson, 1957
Actress Kay Thompson (center) in the 1957 Funny Face, for the film s Think Pink scene.
im here to protect the girlies

The original Barbie didn’t wear pink; instead, she donned a black-and-white-striped swimsuit and white sunglasses. While select Barbies through the ‘60s showed the doll in the color (and a lot of red), it wasn’t until the late ‘70s that Barbie’s hot pink hue became her signature, with “Superstar Barbie” wearing a dramatic hot pink evening gown, her eyes blue, hair done in a platinum blonde and body proportions set to anatomically impossible, a look that would come to define beauty ideals and aspirations for the next few decades.

BERLIN, GERMANY - MAY 16: Barbie dolls and other souvenirs line shelves at the merchandising shop at the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience on May 16, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. The Barbie Dreamhouse is a life-sized house full of Barbie fashion, furniture and accessories and will be open to the public until August 25 before it moves on to other cities in Europe. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
The Barbie Dreamhouse Experience in Berlin, Germany, 2013.
CREDIT: Getty

In the 2000s and 2010s, Mattel made concerted efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive Barbie world. In 2005, Destiny’s Child Barbies included a Beyoncé Barbie, and in 2015, the brand introduced Barbie’s “Sheroes,” a collection of real-life women such as Zendaya, Eva Chen and Ava DuVernay.

In 2016, Barbie got a body makeover, with Mattel debuting three new realistic body types for the doll. Mattel also has its ongoing Barbie Inspiring Women series, which has taken real life women such as Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart and turned them into dolls; earlier this month, they debuted a Jane Goodall doll.

The toy brand may have done the legwork in redefining some of Barbie’s beauty stereotypes — and Barbie commentary has always been filled with a wink and heavy doses of satire, from Aqua s 1997 hit song Barbie Girl to Reese Witherspoon s Elle Woods in the Legally Blonde film franchise.

But much of recent redefining the doll’s signature hue has come from marginalized groups outside of the world of children’s toys. Women of color, trans people, drag queens and other groups have since taken on the notion of hot pink as a beauty standard, claiming the color for themselves. Prominent male celebrities have also helped to dispel the notion of pink as a cisgender white woman’s color, with everyone from Jason Momoa and Sebastian Stan to Subscribe to FN Todayt.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 09: Trixie Mattel, Trixie Motel, attends Celebrate Pride with Tyra Banks, Trixie Mattel, Alex Newell, Eric Cervini and other Discovery+ stars at the Tribeca Festival on June 09, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)
Trixie Mattel at the Celebrate Pride event at the Tribeca Festival on June 9 in New York. The drag queen has helped to redefine the color pink as an inclusive aesthetic.
CREDIT: Getty Images for Warner Bros. Di
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 26: Lil Nas X, winner of Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Old Town Road" and Best Music Video for "Old Town Road (Official Movie)", poses in the press room during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
Lil Nas X at the 2020 Grammy Awards in a pink look by Versace.
Anne Hathaway walked the Spanish Steps
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: Sebastian Stan attends The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating "In America: An Anthology of Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Sebastian Stan at this year s Met Gala, wearing an all-pink look from Valentino.
CREDIT: Getty Images

Cisgender women have also joined the cause to subvert the hue that once tried to define them. TikTok’s #Bimbotok has become a channel for people to critique feminism and redefine it, poking fun at the stereotype of the hyperfeminine “bimbo” while also providing social and political commentary on the rigid boxes into which women are often placed.

In front of an audience of some 4.6 million, TikTok star and comedian Chrissy Chlapecka uses sarcasm to portray a ditzy persona of a blonde bimbo clad in mini skirt, bra top and thigh-high boots while simultaneously sprinkling in bits about sex positivity and protecting women’s bodily autonomy. The sardonic commentary — and its satirical but perhaps serious aesthetic — runs parallel to the hyper-femininity of more conservative circles, a clever inversion that just might sidestep echo chambers and algorithms to get more groups thinking about how feminism might be redefined.

“I honestly think it’s very brave of me that every single day I wake up and I’m determined to look like a slut,” says Chlapecka with a Valley Girl accent, pink hair and matching outfit in one of her most recent videos. “This mini skirt? My battle uniform. This top? That’s my armor, ok? Who am I protecting? The girlies, the gays, all of my babes. The United States of this pussy,” she concludes.

@chrissychlapecka

im here to protect the girlies! #slay

♬ original sound chrissy

A look at the Barbiecore fashion resonating elsewhere on social media proves that today’s pink ensembles are anything but subservient, erring on the side of sharp, aggressive and perhaps a little punk. The Y2K resurgence has encouraged a cosplay of sorts a là Paris Hilton. Mini dresses, short skirts, crop tops, platforms and stilettos all done up in pink point to fashion and sexuality as weapons.

As a new era of battle for women’s rights to their bodies kicks into overdrive in the post-Roe world, hyper-femininity is set to become a tool of empowerment for those who embody it, instead of a means of oppression. “Think pink” means something else now.

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