In a colorful cardboard box, behind a layer of cellophane, a perfectly posed Barbie sits awaiting love. Her peroxide blonde hair is perfectly tamed, her outfit neatly fitted, and her lips painted in an eternally welcoming smile. Her fate is one of two options: She is wielded as an instrument for imagination, or she lives a life frozen in time.
Greta Gerwig’s glittering, pink cinematic hit chooses the second option: ripping open the pristine packaging and setting Barbie free. Some lifelong Barbie adorers have followed the director’s lead and shared their process of removing their untouched dolls from their original packaging, breaking the seal and unwinding the restraint ties to let Barbie’s limbs move for the first time in her plastic, fantastic life.
So, what has emboldened these Barbie adorers to unbox the collector’s item? After all, there’s a point to the preservation. Some of these special Barbies could be worth $1,670 if rare or left in mint condition. And why now, at a time when, more than ever, you would assume these dolls would be preserved in their boxes and worth even more?
In a video uploaded to TikTok, Brittany, a 41-year-old mother from Texas, is sitting on her daughter’s bedroom floor as, together, they unbox the Barbie dolls Brittany has accumulated. The 22-second video—soundtracked to Billie Eilish’s ethereal Barbie track ‘What Was I Made For?’—has clearly struck a chord, quickly reaching over one million views.
Brittany and her daughter’s desire to unbox her Barbies was directly inspired by one particular scene in the movie. They were inspired by one scene in particular: “Watching Barbie run from the box, in the Mattel scene, made me realize that Barbie was not made to be tied down and left in a box,” Brittany explained to The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. Emboldened by the film, Brittany freed her Barbies; while the viral moment was joyous, there was also a sense of mourning. “I regretted not opening them sooner with my daughter. I regretted not opening them as a child,” Brittany said. “At the same time, I felt guilty as these dolls were supposed to be my ‘future.’”
A love for Barbie was passed down from Brittany’s grandmother, and now she’s handing the playful possibilities to her daughter. “I received a Holiday Collector Barbie every Christmas from my grandmother from the age of 6 up until her death,” Brittany reflects. The precious memory of her late grandmother was the heart of why she held on to these Barbies. After she unboxed them in her video, Brittany says that several commenters admonished her, thinking that her collector dolls would accrue even more value during this period of Barbie-mania.
“As I responded to them, the Barbie that I had that was worth the most was 1988 Holiday Barbie, worth $260 almost 35 years later, which wouldn’t even cover college books.” Brushing the dust off these boxes may end the hopes of a perfect condition re-sale, though, watching her daughter open the dolls, Brittany healed any sense of remorse. “[The Barbie dolls] could never be worth more than having her experience the joy I wish I could have had each Christmas morning opening them,” she adds.
Similarly to Brittany, Sarah, who goes by 90sBarbieWorld online, says familial connection is integral to her bond with Barbie. Sarah, a 35-year-old who resides in British Columbia, Canada, describes herself as an “out-of-box collector.” She received her first Barbie at two: “It’s one of the few memories I have of my mother. She loved Barbies and just dolls in general.” This association with childhood underscores how Sarah perceives the “worth” of dolls.
She outlines she doesn’t view Barbie as a means for profit, but her decision to break the seal does depend on “the era, condition of the doll, and the box.” Ultimately, Sarah opens the dolls for her present happiness, not an unreliable future price tag, and says that she doesn’t see dolls “as being worth more if kept in the box.” There are occasions, however, where she’s hesitant: “If the Barbies are pristine in their boxes and they are from the ’80s or ’90s I’m a bit more reluctant to open them. If the boxes are damaged or the doll itself is starting to break down… I will remove it and try to salvage the doll.”
Posting her unboxing of the 1994 Hot Skatin’ Barbie, inspiration for Gerwig’s Venice Beach skater scene, Sarah observed the Barbie hype in real-time. Posting a month before the movie, when the re-emergence of interest in Barbie was snowballing, her videos grew popular: “My typical followers were just other doll collectors, now the majority are women my age seeking out their favorite Barbie [from] when they were young!”
For many, Barbies were a right of passage. Sarah notes that it’s possible to unlock the nostalgia of childhood by opening up a Barbie doll. A similar thought is echoed by Carson—an interior design professional and 1980s collector, known as Carson’s Room online. “The Barbie resurgence really was making me nostalgic,” he says, noting the intersection of nostalgia and pop culture history is his “love language.”
Carson’s unboxing of Barbie & Ken Tennis Stars, which had been untouched for 35 years, is now one of his most popular recent uploads. “They just perfectly encapsulated the ’80s preppy leisure style. I knew I needed them for my home,” Carson says of the dolls he found on eBay. He adds that he nabbed a Peaches and Cream Barbie for her similar “quintessentially ’80s” aesthetic.
As a collector, why does Carson think Barbie, as opposed to other dolls, has transcended eras with its colossal legacy? “Barbie always changed with the times from style, fashion, to Dream House architecture designs,” Carson says, emphasizing that this constant reinvention is integral to Barbie’s enduring popularity. It’s as if Barbie can unlock a portal into the past; each doll has become indicative of the pop culture and womanhood zeitgeist at a particular time.
The way Carson describes the excavation of Barbie conjures comparisons to a fossil; this untouched specimen is removed from where it’s been encased for years. “They’re meant to be out of the box and enjoyed, and it’s almost like they’re finally free after almost 40 years in a box,” Carson says. Also, just because they’re unboxed, that doesn’t mean they’re no longer viewed as part of a collection. For instance, Carson’s Barbies sit on his shelf with all his other ’80s nostalgic items, like his Brooke Shields and Princess Diana doll.
Repeatedly, these collectors say the value they place on their Barbies is not simply monetary. The doll can be an embodiment of generational love, childhood memories, and even significant visibility. When Diana opened her Filipina Barbie, it became an unexpectedly remedial moment. Throughout her childhood, Diana says she was taught to keep her Barbies preserved in their boxes but had never questioned that instruction. After watching the Barbie movie, she couldn’t dull the urge to open up the doll she’d treasured for decades.
“The Manilena Barbie was the first Barbie I’ve ever had that represented Filipino culture through clothing,” Diana says, recalling her attachment to the doll. For Diana, the doll’s value isn’t in a financial or collector capacity, but an intrinsically personal place of self-reflection. Though Barbie does have a complex relationship to girlhood, with its perceived stereotypical values, the identity of Barbie exists beyond the blonde stereotype most commonly associated with the flagship Mattel doll.
“I wish I opened her sooner because I sometimes wonder if my view on my self-worth would be different if I played with Barbies that came from a similar culture as me,” Diana says. “Opening her now as a 37-year-old was so healing and affirming.”
“Healing” is a word that repeatedly arises from these Barbie collectors. Gerwig’s movie sparked a collective reminiscing that resulted in people excavating Barbies from the back of their closets and buried in garages. The act of unboxing, though simple, clearly holds unexpected nostalgia and prompts reflective emotion. “I was able to share this moment with not only my daughter but the world,” Brittany says of her Barbie unboxing. She adds that viewers have told her they’re now opening their collector Barbies with their own children, bringing in intergenerational conversations surrounding the place Barbie holds in the lives of adults and children alike.
Uniting generations in memories of childhood, Barbie is an emblem of the playful possibilities of youth. The value of reliving a forgotten facet of childhood and being able to share that joy with others, whether that be family or online, becomes a more precious asset than a pristine condition doll. After all, from the very beginning, these dolls existed for play without plastic constraints holding them back.
Read more of our Barbie coverage HERE.