Film Review: Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie

by Julia DeKorte | 31 Aug 2023

Book Reviews

Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, a documentary film about a cultural reset for Barbie, was released on April 27, 2018, and sports big name interviews, insider information, and behind the scenes footage of one of the biggest moves Mattel’s Barbie ever made. Directed, written, and produced by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, Tiny Shoulders takes a deep dive into the history of the famous doll and its evolution since its creation in 1959. In 2017 in particular, Project Dawn went live, which was the release of Curvy Barbie, Tall Barbie, and Petite Barbie, the first-time different body shapes for Barbie were released. Barbie’s team knew backlash was inevitable, but not taking part in the movement toward body positivity was not an option. Tiny Shoulders covers every detail of Project Dawn and encourages a compelling conversation about the cultural effects of Barbie.


Tiny Shoulders first introduces Barbie at her conception: Ruth Handler’s brainchild. Viewers get a short yet detailed history of Barbie and the changes that occurred in her production as decades passed. Simultaneously, a history of feminist movements in America are presented through old clips of protests, court room hearings, and interviews. Interspersed throughout Barbie’s history is the lifecycle of Project Dawn. Richard Dickson, the president of Mattel, Kim Culmone, Barbie head of design, and Michelle Chidoni, Barbie public relations, walk readers through how Project Dawn came to be, the work that went into the execution of Project Dawn, and the highly anticipated launch.


Also interviewed throughout the documentary are Gloria Steinem, leader of second-wave feminism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, and Peggy Orenstein, author of Boys & Sex, Girls & Sex, and Cinderella Ate My Daughter. These names and more discussed the effects that Barbie had and continues to have on the minds of children all over the world, and whether or not Project Dawn’s efforts could have positive effects.


Viewers wait in anticipation with Barbie’s team at Mattel on the night of TIME Magazine’s cover story’s release, crossing their fingers for a positive headline. In the final minutes of the film, the world’s reception of Project Dawn is shown through videos, tweets, and commentary from the general public. The documentary ends in Paris, at the “Barbie Fashionistas” exhibition at Hotel Le Moliere, where all iterations of Barbie over the past 50+ years are celebrated for their success and positive impact on the children of the world.


If you loved the Barbie movie and are itching for more Barbie content, Tiny Shoulders is the perfect film to add to your list, and is available on Hulu.

barbie mattel tiny shoulders rethinking barbie barbie movie ruth handler

Tait & Lily, Inventors of Betcha Can't!