What Barbie Taught Margot Robbie About Ditching the 'Sorry Reflex'

margot robbie in pink at a london photo shoot for 'barbie'
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

As the face (and co-producer) behind summer’s biggest blockbuster, it’s hard to imagine how Barbie hasn’t changed Margot Robbie’s life. Her press tour alone sparked a wave of fashion inspo, a 4-second shot of her stepping out of her Barbie heels ignited the #barbiefootchallenge on TikTok and people are begging for a Barbie sequel. But before filming even began, Robbie says the doll changed her in a way she didn’t expect—and it’s stuck with her ever since.

To prepare for the role, the 33-year-old star met with Mattel employees, read up on the doll’s creator, Ruth Handler, and watched documentaries. The most profound insight, though, came from Barbie’s official YouTube channel, which features a CGI Barbie speaking to kids, vlog-style.

“Barbie has this whole lesson about, like, swap out the word ‘sorry’ for the word ‘thank you,’” she shared in an interview with Teen Vogue.

The episode, which was posted back in 2018, talks about girls’ tendency to over-apologize, and how it becomes a “sorry reflex,” and that it implies that “somehow, everything that goes wrong is our fault.” Barbie cites examples, like apologizing when someone bumps into you, or saying, “sorry, could you heat this up for me?” if we’re served cold food at a restaurant.

She delves even deeper, noting how often women will apologize for getting overly excited about something they’re passionate about, or for being sad, because we’re “worried about making someone else sad.” There’s this desire not to bog anyone down with our big feelings, or ever come off as a burden, so instead, we preemptively take the blame for anything that could be unpleasant or make someone—*gasp!*—dislike us.   

As Robbie watched the 2-and-a-half-minute video, she realized she did that all the time. “I start emails with ‘sorry to bother, but, da-da-da.’ Like, ‘sorry, I can’t do that,” the Harley Quinn star explained. “I’m a grown woman and Barbie’s still teaching me something.”

The video challenged viewers to try reframing things from a place of gratitude, saying “thank you” instead, which Robbie adopted in her own life. “’Thank you for understanding that I couldn’t do that’ or ‘thank you for hearing me out—here’s what I think of this,’” she explained.

Though Robbie says the lesson wasn’t necessarily that applicable to her role in the movie, you can find evidence of that empowered tone in the film itself. There’s America Ferrera’s searing monologue, where she asserts the tangled web of contradictions every woman is mired in, culminating in the realization that “not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.” And though Ferrera’s character doesn’t spell it out for us this way, that’s where the “sorry reflex” is born.

In Barbieland, the fictional world where Barbies live, the dolls don’t feel shame for existing, so the reflex isn’t there. They also take things a step further, acknowledging their own effort when they win awards—responding with “I worked hard for this and I deserve it,” rather than downplaying their roles and thanking everyone else for their achievements, as we humans tend to do.

It can be jarring at first. As one TikTokker explained, “I got physically uncomfortable and thought they were being too self-centered and selfish. It was in that moment, with that feeling, that I realized that was why I needed to see it…My discomfort was from living in a world that is built on me making myself as small as possible.”

Funny how it could take an 11.5-inch-tall doll to help us realize how big we can (and should) be.

candace davison bio

VP of editorial, recipe developer, cookbook author

Candace Davison oversees PureWow's food and home content, as well as its franchises, like the PureWow100 review series and the Happy Kid Awards. She’s covered all things lifestyle...