Illustration by Sarah Yu of Barbie
Barbie's look has been updated in all sorts of ways over the years. (Illustration by Sarah Yu, Duke University)

The New ‘Wellness Barbie’ Misses the Point of the Doll

We have seen countless iterations of the iconic Mattel toy over the years. Is this version just bringing in adult worries into kids’ playtime?

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Illustration by Sarah Yu of Barbie

We have seen countless iterations of the iconic Mattel toy over the years. Is this version just bringing in adult worries into kids’ playtime?

Growing up, Barbie reigned as my idol. She made me believe I could be and do it all. No one holds a resume like her: astronaut, nurse, teacher, news anchor, marine biologist and pilot. Not to mention Barbie has been a confidant to every little girl looking for a friend that resonates with herself. Mattel introduced Chemo Barbie, made and distributed to help young girls with cancer; Barbies of all shades of color were introduced, as well as drag queen Barbie and fashionistas that reflected the modern-day women of all body types, skin tones and hairstyles. And now, Mattel offers us Wellness Barbie.

Self-care. We women know it, live by it and bathe in it until our pores have shrunk, our skin glows, and our body and mind depletes itself of every stress that causes us worry lines in our foreheads. Adulthood is no easy task. There is work, there are bills and maybe even kids — all while trying to juggle your own personal/social life. As an adult, you might wish to be little again, if only for a few more hours with zero responsibilities. But while we are wishing for this past life, Mattel has infiltrated a little girl’s playtime with the so-called keys to remaining emotionally stable for a possibly chaotic future.

Mattel created Wellness Barbie with the intention of teaching emotional wellbeing with women’s newfound obsession: “self-care.” With “Breathe with Me” Barbie, Barbie “Face Mask Spa Day,” Barbie “Fizzy Bath Doll” and more, kids will learn through mindful exercises how to take time for themselves in this go-go-go world. In a press release obtained by Cosmo, Mattel states: “The collection teaches girls daily routines that promote emotional well-being and includes three key themes: meditation, physical well-being and self-care; because Barbie knows to be one’s best is to give yourself the best care.”

This is not, nor does it need to be, Barbie’s job, especially at the target audience of 3 to 5-year-olds. Although I am 100% for self-care as I blissfully take part in it myself, a child’s self-care does not reflect that of an adult’s, and I hope it never does. Wellness Barbie teaches kids that an overpriced monthly yoga membership, a bathroom cabinet dedicated to face masks and a luxurious scented bath are key to destressing and keeping peace of mind. It is teaching kids that in their lifetime there will be stress, there will be worry and this is how to maintain some sort of equilibrium. As a Barbie enthusiast, this is such a letdown.

Said best by Cosmo journalist Ashley Oermen, play is self-care for kids. Everything that Wellness Barbie encapsulates gives into the capitalism of self-care that is unnecessary for children. As adults we choose these extensive and pricey self-care routines, all of which children are already getting: An adult’s time to rest is a child’s nap time, our paid gym membership is their recess and our fancy soaks in our bath products are their bath time. The difference between us as adults and them as kids, is they know how to live happily with the simplest forms of self-care.

Barbie is here to make life seem glamorous and push girls to aspire and live your best life, not to prepare for the realities and stresses of adulthood. As a kid, I owned multiple (yes, multiple) trunks dedicated to Barbie. She took me to outer space, she took me to the zoo, she played dress up with me and took me to fashion shows. When I wanted to play salon, she let me cut her hair and paint her nails even though it may have looked like a butch job. You ever rip off their heads and switch their bodies, or smother Ken with kisses or twist the doll’s limbs in positions that would make you hurt just thinking about it now? Barbie let me do it because it made me happy. This kind of playtime with Barbie is what kids should be looking forward to.

Ruth Handler first introduced Barbie in 1959. Watching her daughter play with paper dolls inspired her to create Barbie (also named after her daughter). Barbie has faced criticisms before — being seen as a sex symbol for many years — and as time has passed, steps have continuously been taken to counteract the criticisms. Today, girls of all races and body types can see themselves in Barbie and aspire to be her. Girls also learn that they can accomplish anything with the historical Barbie line that represents history-making women such as Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo and Katherine Johnson.

Although Wellness Barbie was made with good intentions, Mattel missed the mark. We all have been misguided and overly consumed with today’s trendy self-care routines which, frankly, only break the bank and provide short-term relief. But our little ones will grow up and when they do, they will learn what self-care means to them. Maybe it is a face mask, or maybe it’s therapy. Nonetheless, I hold no grudge over Mattel and will forever and always remain a Barbie aficionado.

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