Barbie, Augustine, and the Beauty We Were Made For

Barbie, Augustine, and the Beauty We Were Made For
August 16, 2023

By Gregory Coles. Greg is a Senior Research Fellow at The Center and is the author of Single, Gay, Christian and No Longer Strangers.


Last week, I donned my best pink t-shirt[1] and went with six similarly bedecked friends to watch Greta Gerwig’s new Barbie movie. That night when I got home, I set the movie’s best original song[2] playing on a one-hour loop and started scribbling some thoughts about Augustine of Hippo.


You may be thinking, “I’m not sure Augustine of Hippo is a common theme among people who just finished watching Barbie.” And you’d probably be correct. But hear me out.


(By the way, if you’re a cinephile who eschews spoilers, fear not: this blog post will spoil no major plot points of Barbie, beyond a few twists that occur relatively early in the film and are already spoiled in the trailer. Then again, if you haven’t watched it yet and deeply long to be surprised at every turn, go do that first and come back here later.)


About half an hour into the film, Stereotypical Barbie (played superbly by Margot Robbie) sits down at a bus stop bench next to a woman with white hair and wrinkled skin (Ann Roth). Barbie has just recently arrived in the Real World, where she journeys after her perfect life in Barbie World is disrupted by flat feet, burnt toast, thoughts of death, and cellulite. (The horror!) She’s accustomed to thinking of herself and all the other Barbies around her as exemplars of perfect beauty. But in this world, for the first time, she’s exposed to real people whose lives and physical appearances are marked by the inherent imperfections of humanness.


There on that city bench, the vibrantly pink-attired and physically flawless Barbie turns to Roth—a ninety-year-old woman dressed in everyday clothes—and says with a touch of wonder in her voice, “You’re so beautiful.” 


Roth, without missing a beat, replies, “I know it.”


The confidence of Roth’s reply contrasts Barbie’s own lack of confidence: not only about her beauty, but also, more broadly, about the reason for her existence and her purpose in the world. Barbie World’s perfection relies on its immobility. Every day is just the same as the one before and after, flawless in a way only plastic can achieve. But the Real World has a new kind of beauty foreign to Barbie’s experience: the beauty of aging, of change, of lives in motion with a sense of direction.


Barbie’s growing, unshakeable urge to discover the logic behind her creation—her urge to know the mind of her creator—finds its voice in the highlight of the film’s soundtrack, hauntingly sung by Billie Eilish:


I used to know

But I'm not sure now

What I was made for

What was I made for?


What struck me about these central themes of the film—the paradoxical relationship between physical beauty and the materiality of the body, and the search for a creative purpose that unites our beauty to our materiality—is how deeply Christian they are.[3] In fact, Augustine of Hippo meditates on some similar themes in book 22 of The City of God:


[E]ven in the body, though it dies like that of the beasts… what goodness of God, what providence of the great Creator, is apparent![4]


Like Barbie, Augustine can’t address human beauty without naming the problem of bodily death. But also like Barbie, once death has been properly acknowledged, the evidence of human beauty is inescapably obvious, and it deepens our understanding of the Creator’s mind:


Assuredly no part of the body has been created for the sake of utility which does not also contribute something to its beauty…. [O]f all those members which are exposed to our view, there is certainly not one in which beauty is sacrificed to utility, while there are some which serve no purpose but only beauty… [I]t can readily be concluded that in the creation of the human body comeliness was more regarded than necessity. In truth, necessity is a transitory thing; and the time is coming when we shall enjoy one another’s beauty without any lust,—a condition which will specially redound to the praise of the Creator, who, as it is said in the psalm, has “put on praise and comeliness.[5]


The human body has practical utility, of course—but Augustine is convinced that God’s creative process has prized beauty even more highly than pragmatism. Every useful part of the body is also beautiful, he contends. Meanwhile, some body parts have no practical purpose and are designed by God purely for the purpose of beauty. In defense of this latter point, Augustine offers two examples: beards and male nipples.


There are some details in the body which are there simply for aesthetic reasons, and for no practical purpose—for example, the nipples of a man's chest, and the beard on his face, the latter being clearly for a masculine ornament, not for protection.[6]


I’m not particularly interested, for our current purposes, in whether Augustine’s assessment of the functional uselessness of beards and male nipples holds up to modern scientific scrutiny. I’m also not interested in weighing in on the long-standing debate over whether Augustine might have experienced some degree of attraction to the same sex.[7]


Instead, I want to highlight Augustine’s suggestion that God our Creator takes an interest in beauty for its own sake. Augustine invites us to think of our bodies not merely as pragmatic tools but also as monuments bedecked in wonder and extravagantly ornamented, living and breathing images of the Divine. 


There are many true answers to the question “What was I made for?”—many more than we can tackle in a blog post—but one of those true answers is, “I was made to be beautiful.”


I realize that, in the 21st-century English-speaking West, “beautiful” isn’t a word we typically associate with male bodies. Still, call it what you will, Augustine’s point about humankind’s aesthetic goodness extends to all humankind. Every one of us is theologically defined by beauty. Not Barbie World beauty—perfectly plastic and unmoving—but the human beauty of asymmetry and cellulite, the beauty of bodies that age and fail and die (and await resurrection).


Every one of us, seen through heaven’s eyes, deserves to be greeted with the gentle gasp of Margot Robbie’s Barbie: “You’re so beautiful.”


And every one of us, speaking with heaven’s confidence, is invited to reply: “I know it.”


[1] Thanks, Revoice 2022 conference merch!


[2] No, not Ryan Gosling singing “I’m Just Ken”; I’m talking about Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” More on that in a few paragraphs.


[3] For the record, my goal here is not to make a broad argument about the relationship between Christian faith and the Barbie film in its entirety. A host of writers have already found things to say on that subject, both in favor and against, and I’m just as happy to sidestep that particular fray. For those wanting to weigh in, I’d highly recommend reading about how Gerwig herself compares the film to the blessings she used to receive at Jewish Shabbat dinners: “You are a child of God. I put my hand over you, and I bless you as a child of God.” (Gerwig shares this in her interview with Willa Paskin in the New York Times at this link. Thanks to my dear friend Rachel Fawcett for calling my attention to Gerwig’s language here!)


[4] From Marcus Dods’s translation of chapter 24, available at


[5] Again, Dods’s translation of chapter 24.


[6] We’re still in chapter 24, but I’m now using Bettenson’s translation (excerpted at this link), mostly so I can use the word “nipples” in the main text instead of Dods’s more archaic “teats.”


[7] Admittedly, it’s fascinating that his discussion of human beauty is so male-centric; then again, it’s not uncommon for ancient philosophical writings to be male-centric in pretty much every way, including this one. (Thanks, patriarchy.) If you’re eager to wade into deliberations about Augustine’s sexuality, I’d recommend starting with Alan Soble's "Correcting Some Misconceptions about St. Augustine's Sex Life," available at