Barbie, ‘kidulting’ and searching joy

With more than a US$1billion taken at the box office globally, the movie Barbie has become a global sensation. But beyond the acclaimed acting and feminist messages, there is something more fundamental that attracts people to Barbie: the opportunity to reconnect with childhood. 

The movie has tapped perfectly into the growing trend of ‘kidulting’, which sees adults use experiences generally more associated with kids to tap into feelings of childhood joy. From buying soft toys to visiting a waterpark or playing with Lego, ‘kidulting’ is increasingly being used by people to help reduce stress and improve creativity. 

Popularity was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which gave people a renewed desire to want to explore their surroundings and find greater purpose in their life. 

Dr Carla Manly, author of the book Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend, has emerged as a leading authority on kidulting and explains that finding why at the heart of the approach is people trying to find joy.  

“I like to think of joy as a candle in a glass container,” Dr Manly explains to Livehealthy. “We are all born with this innocent burning light and as we go through life, the glass gets darker as soot builds up, particularly in hard times. It means we lose the ability to see our joy. 

Dr Carla Manly kidulting
Image courtesy Dr Carla Manly

“Kidulting is just one approach that can be used to wipe away that soot and find our joy again. It’s not the perfect approach for everyone; some may prefer psychotherapy, or yoga or journaling. But the desired outcome – rediscovering our joy – is the same.” 

Dr Manly makes the distinction between being childish and childlike; the former is about ego, petulance and self-absorption, while the latter is about fostering a sense of being carefree, positive and buoyant. Such feelings lend themselves to an escape from the pressures of everyday life. 

“When we are kids, we are really living in the moment so if we are kidulting, we naturally have reduced stress, reduced anxiety sometimes reduced depression, and certainly elevated mood,” Dr Manly says. 

“We’re not worried about what happened yesterday or five years ago or what the work schedule is tomorrow or in a week. We are really in the moment. That ability to be present in the moment, to release the past and future is a key element of being in that childlike state.”

Although the idea of kidulting will appeal to many, Dr Manly recognizes that remembering childhood is not a joyful experience for everyone. 

“A huge number of people are dealing with trauma, so we can’t assume that everyone can touch back to childhood for those joyful moments,” she explains. 

“But what we can do is create what that person wished for their childhood self. They might not have a safe space of their own so sometimes it is necessary to engage the imagination to help create it – even if it is from a TV show or a Disney movie. It can take us to a place even if we’ve never experienced it ourselves.”

Joy From Fear, Kidulting

For those ready to embrace kidulting, the UAE is somewhat of an adult playground with waterparks, trampoline parks and inflatable adventure parks like Air Maniax in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

“We get a number of all-adult groups on a weekly basis and there has definitely been an increase in recent months,” says Stephen Ireland, head of operations at Air Maniax. “Sometimes this is friends, or corporate teambuilding – but we’ve seen that adults enjoy our inflatables and trampolines as much as kids. There is certainly a lot of fun in nostalgia.”

The UAE offers myriad activities suitable for kidulting, however Dr Manly insists that it doesn’t always have to be an expensive activity. 

“You don’t have to go to Disneyland,” she says. “It can be something as simple as climbing a tree or building a tent out of a bedsheet and a couple of chairs – or doing cartwheels on the lawn. Anything that helps release you the responsibilities and the burdens of adulthood and just slip into being in the now in a really joyful way.

“It’s a very powerful way to be in touch with the inner child and often we think that we’re wrong for engaging with that part of the self. But that is where our innocence, our creativity, our natural state of joy lives. They’re all in that place so why not access that, absolutely free of charge.” 

While a trip to the cinema to watch Barbie isn’t quite free of charge, it has certainly emerged as an obvious way for people to connect with their childhood and Dr Manly believes this has unquestionably fed the film’s popularity. 

“It has really resonated with people,” she reflects. “Two generations of adults are kidulting, immersed in the world they grew up playing in. Barbie hits people on so many levels but primarily we can really feel that youthful, hot pink energy of Barbie and how free she was. 

“As kids we were able to live through her by dressing her up. If we couldn’t get to Paris, we could dress Barbie up and go to Paris with Barbie. If we weren’t allowed to have a poodle, our Barbie could have a poodle. I do think especially for women, the Barbie movie is a way of really returning to childhood joy.” is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



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