30 September 2020

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Okay, so I really don’t want to make this a story about Barbie Ferreira’s body. About how she is “soft, fleshy, bountiful” (L.A. Times, September 2020) and has “learned to embrace her curves” (Daily Mail, the day after this photo shoot). About what it’s like to “be whittled down to your most marketable, tokenized parts” (Them., September 2019) or whether “the term ‘plus-size model’—is that something you are okay with?” (W, a hundred years ago, in March 2016).

And yet here I am, using the opening lines of the 23-year-old’s first major magazine cover story to talk about her body.

Because here’s the thing: It’s all a fucking trap. The pointing out, the celebrating, the implicit messaging: This not-thin woman is thriving! Can you believe it?! Yes, it is important to see someone like Barbie. To have her body pointed out and celebrated. To message to other women—especially women who, like me, look more like Barbie than not—that, Oh, shit, yeah, you can thrive too. Just watching Barbie exist does something (not everything but something) to counteract the years of hiding your upper arms, of spending your allowance on diet pills, of standing in the background of group pics doing that thing where you stick out your head like E.T. so that, if you’re lucky, you’ll look just a little bit smaller.

Barbie gets this too. She knows that her body’s mere existence in Hollywood is a balm. How relieving, how energy-shifting, how so-good-it’s-almost-numbing it is to see someone you can relate to in an ad, on TV, in a movie. But that doesn’t mean it’s fair. It doesn’t make it okay that even though she’d really like to Finally Move On to something else—her ambitions, maybe…her talent, her actual work—she has to keep talking about her body. Which means I do too, at least for some of this story.

But anyway, here’s something that has zero to do with it: Barbie’s top-billing role in this fall’s Unpregnant. It’s a road-trip buddy comedy…about abortion. And honestly, it’s great. Warm and fuzzy and legit really funny. Also real. “Normalizing abortion is what we have to do,” Barbie says matter-of-factly, under the glow of string lights in her L.A. kitchen during our midday Zoom. “Society puts this pressure on people who are getting abortions, that they should feel a lot of guilt and shame and really emotional about it. Most people are just relieved.

Barbie plays Bailey, quirky high school loner and ex–best friend of Veronica (played by Haley Lu Richardson), the Insta-perfect popular senior. They reconnect when Veronica realizes she’s pregnant and needs to travel across several states for an abortion. Veronica’s crew is too judgy, her parents too religious, to ask for help, and Bailey has a car.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s not one of those roles—the one-dimensional character whose insecurities are used for laughs or to affirm the pretty lead. Bailey is complex, with her own full backstory and plotline. And most important: “My character was not based on her body whatsoever,” says Barbie. The role of Bailey didn’t include a body type—neither the fanciful kind (“fluffy”) nor the literal kind (“overweight, loud, and sassy”), both of which Barbie has seen written into character descriptions. Anyone, in theory, could be Bailey. “It was really great not to talk about—or act out—my body for once,” she adds.

Especially since, for Barbie, it’s always been about acting, even before she became a full-time model at age 18. Specifically a “plus-size” model, not that the label was all that authentic. As a size 10, she’d have to bring padding to photo shoots to fit into the clothes she was asked to model for Adidas, H&M, Target, Missguided, ASOS, and other brand campaigns with “plus-size” lines.

Full interview: cosmopolitan.com


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