My 1 problem with the new ‘self-care’ Barbie

When I discovered that Mattel had launched a new Barbie collection of “Wellness” dolls to “introduce girls to the benefits of self-care through play,” I thought: “Wow, what a step in the right direction!” But once I saw what the dolls looked like, I was immediately overwhelmed with feelings of conflict.

As a Black beauty director, my work’s purpose in this industry has always been rooted in dismantling stereotypes and changing the narrative of what beauty looks like. However, Barbie’s Wellness dolls further perpetuate unrealistic standards that self-care is for thin, affluent and predominately white women.

Yes, there are a few “brown” Barbies doing meditative breathing exercises, enjoying a spa day (much-deserved, as Barbie is quite the career woman!) and soaking in a relaxing bath. But with Mattel’s seemingly positive mission to create inclusive toys, I couldn’t help but ask: “Where are the curvy, natural hair, different-ability Barbies?” And, more importantly, as the mom of a young boy, I’d appreciate seeing Ken get his self-care on, too.

Self-care has become even more necessary to my wellbeing since becoming a mother. I may not have as much “me time” to go to yoga class more than twice a month, sit in a corner and journal or read for hours or can afford getting a weekly mani and pedi (let’s face it, diapers aren’t cheap). So, I’ve learned to incorporate my son into many of my self-care practices at home.

We recite mantras in the mirror together. When frustrated or angry, we allow ourselves to feel those emotions and then breathe our way into a state of calm. We enjoy 10 seconds of mindfully applying face lotion or shea butter to our bodies. We go on walks to the park or our favorite vegan donut shop. We laugh, laugh and laugh some more.

Our mother-and-son self-care practices aren’t all tied to spending an obscene amount of money, much like a couple of the themes I’ve noticed in the “Wellness” Barbie collection. For that Mattel, I say: “Thank you!”

But based on many of the reviews I read on popular fashion magazine websites, you’d think that the brand was preaching to young children that you’ve got to pay a high cost to get some zen. Or many critics believe playing with dolls is an act of self-care. It’s worth noting that many of these critiques come from white, millennial women — no surprise there!

The fact that these editors and writers equate self-care with being “expensive” or capitalism speaks volumes. I agree that the wellness industry makes bank off of products and treatments you can do right at home, or that are entirely bogus. But if I wanted to treat my child (or myself) to a day of pampering, then why not? I see it as a shared experience where we can continue a dialogue of expressing our feelings and figuring out how best to overcome everyday stressors.

Furthermore, not every kid has the privilege of playing with Barbies or playing at all. There are children — specifically Black and underprivileged children — who carry a lot of responsibility on a daily basis. Many of them aren’t introduced to wellness or understand that holistic health takes different forms for different people. So if a “self-care” Barbie is going to give some little girl or boy five minutes of pretending that they don’t have to be grown-up, I fully support it.

As a parent, I’m not expecting Mattel to introduce my son to self-care. That is my responsibility and I consider it an honor to raise a young man that can freely be whomever he chooses… face mask, meditation app, yoga mat and all!

Hey Beauties: What are your thoughts about the new Barbie “Wellness” collection? Let’s discuss! Comment below.

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