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‘Barbie’ movie has adults embracing dolls as form of emotional healing

‘Barbie’ movie has adults embracing dolls as form of emotional healing
Posted at 5:30 AM, Oct 04, 2023

“Barbie” has become more than the box office blockbuster of the year.

The Greta Gerwig film, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, has captured the collective consciousness on everything from fashion to a resurgence in vintage Barbie doll sales.

But “Barbie” has touched many people on a much deeper level. Adults have taken to social media to talk about how the movie tapped into their childhood, often leading them to discover something was missing. In a quest to fill that space, many of these people have made a special trip to the store to buy an “emotional support” Barbie doll.


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The ‘Emotional Support Barbie’ Trend

Enter “#emotionalsupportbarbie” in any social media platform search bar, and you’ll find countless videos and posts about the phenomenon. Shoppers are recording themselves heading to their local Walmart or Target to find the perfect Barbie to reconnect with their younger selves. Or, perhaps, to buy a piece of childhood they didn’t have while growing up.

Many of these videos use the touching “What Was I Made For” song by Billie Eilish on the “Barbie” soundtrack as background music to add to the emotional impact.

“Little me would have loved her,” wrote TikTok user @rebeccanicolestar on an Aug. 7 post, which showed her shopping and unboxing experience as she buys herself a doll.

@rebeccanicolestar Little me would have loved her 💕 #emotionalsupportbarbie #comfortbarbie #barbie #barbiethemovie #whatwasimadefor ♬ What Was I Made For? [From The Motion Picture “Barbie”] – Billie Eilish

MaDalyn St. Cloud at @mad23makeup shared her journey to two stores to find her emotional support Barbie. Her description captured a feeling of uncertainty turned to joy during a wholesome moment.

“There was another girl, dressed in all pink, looking for her own support Barbie,” the TikTok creator wrote. “For a moment, it felt like we were two little girls excited to find the perfect Barbie and outfits. $20 to heal a part of my soul? Welcome home, Barbie.”

@mad23makeup $20 to heal a part of my soul? Welcome home, Barbie 💕🥹 #emotionalsupportbarbie #supportbarbie #hairstylistbarbie #hibarbie♥ #iusedtofloat #whatwasimadeforbarbiesong ♬ what was I made for BILLIE EILISH FROM BARBIE – Oᴜᴛsᴛᴀɴᴅɪɴɢ_ʟyrics

The Benefits of Play for Adults

While comfort objects and play are normal parts of childhood, scientists have studied them as potential benefits for adults, too.

Psychologist Dr. Sarah Walker completed a study with adults ages 18 to 65 who struggled with standard modes of therapy to see how they would connect with their own Barbie doll.

“I was inspired by the concept of comfort objects,” she told Mind Help. “Children often form attachments to objects like stuffed animals or blankets … I wondered if adults could benefit from a similar concept.”

During the study, the adults were given a doll and encouraged to play and interact with them.


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Early results, shared in a Sept. 28 Mind Help article, show promise that Barbie dolls can help patients open up about their issues as a tool for improving patients’ emotional well-being.

“The process of externalizing one’s thoughts and feelings, even to an inanimate object, can be incredibly therapeutic,” Dr. Walker told Mind Help. “It allows individuals to process their emotions and gain a new perspective on their challenges.”

Other scientific studies show the advantages of adding play to our grown-up lives. A 2013 study of 898 university students found a strong correlation between playful adults and better stress management. Meanwhile, a doctoral thesis in psychology from Samuel West of Sweden’s Lund University evaluated a collection of studies on the topic and concluded that play enhances our creativity in the workplace and beyond.

“Some of the research suggests that it can help stave off depression,” said Kristin Flora, a psychology professor at Franklin College in Indiana, to CNN. “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.”

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