Barbie & the Brace
By Caitlin Mari V. Oliveros, PT, PF-1, BSPTS-1
Thanks to a toy donation drive I participated in, I recently discovered that Barbie dolls now come in so many colors, shapes, sizes, occupations, and even conditions– I found dolls with wheelchairs, skin conditions like vitiligo, and alopecia (hairless head)! My initial thoughts were, “Oh, how cool would it be if they also had a scoliosis Barbie?” Perhaps I may have accidentally contributed to its manifestation, but fast forward to the present day– Mattel just announced the release of its Chelsea doll with scoliosis, which comes with a removable back brace!
Image source: Mattel
With 1-3% of adolescents affected in the US, scoliosis is a condition that affects both the spine and trunk, causing asymmetrical posture and curvature(s) of the spine. I found it interesting that Mattel chose Chelsea, Barbie’s younger sister, as their scoliosis model. As a scoliosis-specific physical therapist, I found this to be a key detail because scoliosis often develops at a young age, with braces worn during childhood/adolescence (less in adulthood). This consideration made me wonder how much research Mattel put into developing this doll, and I was pleased to discover that they worked closely with children’s spinal disorder specialist Dr. Luke Macyszyn to ensure accuracy of the doll!
Representation is so important especially at a young age; when we feel seen, we also feel like we belong. Yanna (18), shares her initial thoughts upon finding out about the new Mattel doll:
“I wore my back brace for 6 years under my clothes, and I would only buy baggy shirts that would cover it. I was ashamed to wear my brace because I never saw scoliosis representation in toys or media growing up. This new doll makes me so happy and hopeful that kids diagnosed with scoliosis won’t be so ashamed anymore!”
As a physical therapist who works closely with the adolescent scoliosis population, I have seen several instances when a patient (and sometimes their parents) refuse to go through with bracing due to its negative connotation. Oftentimes, the fear or frustration about being prescribed a brace comes from the worry about what other people may think or do– Will strangers look at me weird? Will people start asking me questions? What if my classmates make fun of me? When negative thoughts cloud judgment, it may be easy to forget that bracing is only temporary, and wearing it consistently for a while will actually help to improve their condition in the long run.
Mei (14), has been wearing her brace for 4 years now, and assures other young people that there is a silver lining to consistent bracewear and physical therapy. “There are many difficulties with wearing a brace– both mentally and physically. The top ones for me are having the motivation to wear it and doing daily tasks with it.” She continues, “But looking back, I’ve seen how far I’ve grown and improved my scoliosis. Both of these push me to continue wearing my brace and keep up with PT… You can still do most things with scoliosis– even with a brace– after a while, it doesn’t even feel like it’s there!””
Scoliosis is a chronic condition– but it CAN be treated. Scoliosis-specific physical therapy has been found to improve scoliosis and improve quality of life.
If you or someone you know may be interested in learning more about scoliosis, or would like to book an appointment for a check-up or treatment, call our office at (516) 365-3455! We also offer a FREE 15-Minute Consultation if you would like to connect with one of our physical therapists!
Kuznia AL, Hernandez AK, Lee LU. Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis: Common Questions and Answers. Am Fam Physician. 2020 Jan 1;101(1):19-23. PMID: 31894928.
Seleviciene V, Cesnaviciute A, Strukcinskiene B, Marcinowicz L, Strazdiene N, Genowska A. Physiotherapeutic Scoliosis-Specific Exercise Methodologies Used for Conservative Treatment of Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis, and Their Effectiveness: An Extended Literature Review of Current Research and Practice. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Jul 28;19(15):9240. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19159240. PMID: 35954620; PMCID: PMC9368145.