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How Barbie is shaping up to be a source of emotional support for grown-ups

Of all the roles the doll has taken on over her 64 years of existence, Barbie is now being seen as a comforting and reassuring item, even for adults

Published: Oct 14, 2023 07:29:39 AM IST
Updated: Oct 13, 2023 05:31:24 PM IST

How Barbie is shaping up to be a source of emotional support for grown-upsBarbie dolls are shaping up to be a source of emotional support for grown-ups in the US. Image: NeydtStock / Shutterstock©

The theatrical release of Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" movie this summer has helped boost sales of Mattel's doll. And it's not just children who are getting them. On TikTok, some internet users—mainly women in the US—are posting videos of them buying a Barbie for themselves. So has the famous plastic doll become a new source of comfort for adults?

On TikTok, videos of adult women in the US buying themselves Barbie dolls are proliferating. The videos show them browsing toy aisles, looking for a doll that looks just like them, or unboxing their purchases. For example, the artist and wheelchair user, @gremlingrandparent, bought herself a wheelchair Barbie, just like her. "I got a Barbie that looks like me. ... She comes with her own ramp!" she says while opening the packaging, clearly moved by the experience. "Plus size Barbie is something I wish I had as a little girl, constantly comparing myself to her. I'm so happy to have her," explains another TikToker called Maddie. Meanwhile, Britknee took a different approach by gifting a Barbie to her mother, who never got the chance to have one when she was a child.

In the multitude of videos that can be seen on the Chinese social network, many women refer to their doll as an emotional support Barbie. In fact, the emotionalsupportbarbie hashtag has almost two million views. For these adults, Barbie is seen as a source of comfort, serving to reassure them and (re)build their self-confidence. "Oh my god, she's so pretty. I'm so pretty. Ok, I'm gonna go before I cry," continues @grelingrandparent in her video. And the success of Greta Gerwig's movie is no small part of this trend. It has allowed these women to talk freely about wanting a Barbie, without being seen as adults who refuse to grow up and who dream of returning to childhood. Of all the roles the doll has taken on over her 64 years of existence, Barbie is now being seen as a comforting and reassuring item, even for adults.

Also read: With 'Kencore,' Barbie isn't the only one smashing stereotypes

Nostalgia at the service of mental health

"We have quite a bit of research that shows the benefits of play for children. But increasingly, we have scientific evidence that play is beneficial for adults as well, especially in the mental health realm," explains Kristin Flora, a professor of psychology at Franklin College in Indiana, speaking to CNN. "Some of the research suggests that it can help stave off depression. It can help us build a sense of optimism, which is really important when things are uncertain. It can help us decide what disposition to take as we live through unprecedented times." According to her, Barbie, or other toys, could contribute to well-being, helping to "boost confidence and positivity in critical moments," reports CNN.

Internet users therefore find a certain comfort in toys like Barbie, which helps them get through the tumult of everyday life. According to psychologist Mark Travers, who wrote an article on the subject in Forbes magazine, "the Barbie phenomenon symbolizes many things in our society. Perhaps most of all, it reaffirms the power of the past." Faced with the uncertainties of recent years (including the health, economic and climate crises) and the stress these times can generate, people tend to turn to their past —their childhood—to connect with a happier, or at least simpler, period in their lives. "Today, as more people prioritize self-care and well-being, their longing for—and, hence, the appeal of—nostalgic moments continues to grow relentlessly," he explains. "A recent study found that nostalgia is often triggered in response to negative feelings, acting as an effective tool to strengthen social connections, enhance self-esteem, and generate positive emotions necessary to avoid stress or unpleasant emotions during difficult times."

Barbie dolls are just one example of how toys can play an important role in the everyday lives of adults. In fact, plush toys have for years been acknowledged as a source of emotional support for adults. This can be seen on social networks like TikTok, where a plethora of videos shows internet users cuddling or sleeping with their favorite stuffed toy. Indeed, some adults keep their childhood cuddly toys as companions for life. Research from the University of Amsterdam, published in 2013 in the journal Psychological Science, even demonstrated that a plush toy could be a great ally for maintaining mental health, even capable of alleviating anxiety attacks.

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