Barbie is many girls’ introduction to light LARPing, living vicariously through the doll’s glam lifestyle. Even before the Barbie universe’s recent, rapid expansion, Barbie came in so many varieties and could do so many things: She’s a veterinarian, she’s a gymnast, she’s an Olympic skater—she can do basically anything a kid might wish they could do, but can’t, because they’re a kid. Mattel’s craftiest marketing ploy is the notion that children who play with a doll who has a career might someday aspire to such careers themselves, ergo Barbies are good for young girls and not in any way retrograde.
Which is why the new line of Wellness Barbies—designed to “introduce girls to the benefits of self-care through play”—is such a bummer. “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,” reads the press release. Teaching self-care to kids is a fine idea, but the Barbie version of this is woefully disappointing, and only solidifies wellness as an aspirational lifestyle. Barbie, it seems, has been watching Goop Lab, and bought into the capitalist notion that self-care means a medicine cabinet stocked with $12 face masks, rather than going to therapy. (Though, to give Barbie a little credit, she may be trapped within the same health care system that we are, and is stuck spinning her wheels within wellness because she can’t afford her out-of-network appointment fees.) And at $20 a pop, Wellness Barbie multiplies the expenses of self-care capitalism exponentially.
Also: all of this is completely unnecessary! As journalist Ashely Oerman wrote for Cosmopolitan, play is self-care for kids; the simple act of dumping all your Barbies on the floor is self-care. Actually, a lot of things hawked to adults under the big umbrella of capitalist Wellness are merely fancified versions of kid stuff: rest (nap time), boutique fitness classes (recess), fancy bath products (bath time), meditative coloring books (regular coloring books)... the kid lifestyle has “wellness” built in.
Those of us who owned Barbies that predate Wellness Barbie have been using our dolls for true self-care for decades. You ever cut the plastic hairs off a Barbie head? Or fry it off using your mom’s curling iron? How about given Barbie a fresh new look by coloring on her face with permanent marker, or tearing off her limbs? You ever create a little chaos by making her scissor her friends right in front of Ken??? Children intrinsically understand that sometimes the best outlet for anxiety is a little harmless destruction or low-stakes drama. The best use for Wellness Barbie may be as a punching bag for capitalist rage; sully her face masks, rip out her coiffed hair, and put fake little plastic poops in her bubble bath. Barbie has always been a reflection of the society she lives in; Wellness Barbie and whatever messed-up things her wee owners do to her will be, too.
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