What's a Barbie dad? Why these fathers are down to play dolls with their kids.

“I love to see her use her imagination," one dad says of playing with his 6-year-old.

Dads are into Barbie, too. Here's why. (Image: Getty; illustration by Aisha Yousaf ; Photo: Getty Images)
Dads are into Barbie, too. Here's why. (Image: Getty; illustration by Aisha Yousaf ; Photo: Getty Images) (Illustration by Aisha Yousaf ; Photo: Getty Images)
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When Danny Charbel’s daughter first became interested in Barbie, the professional realtor knew what needed to happen. The pair gathered the 5-year old’s newly acquired collection of dolls and then put the Dream House on the market.

“We played out a scenario where Barbie needs to move now. Is she going to rent it out? Is she going to build her own little empire?” Charbel tells Yahoo Life.

Playing with the fashion figures has long been the domain of little girls, but many dads say they enjoy getting down on all-fours to have imaginary adventures with their daughters. That’s in the spotlight, thanks to the Greta Gerwig Barbie film that’s become a summer smash.

Ryan Gosling, who stars as Ken in the box office blockbuster, was asked about playing dolls with his young daughters while walking the red carpet.

“My kids, their Barbies aren’t even named Barbie. They have their own names. It’s very complicated, shared the father of two, who also told reporters that, when it comes to play time, his girls keep him on his toes. The Barbies, he says, have their own backstories.

“You gotta know it all," Gosling shared in a clip that's gone viral. "Because if you’re playing with two who are estranged, they don’t even talk! And, by the way, he works at a grocery store. He’s not a fireman! Get out of here!”

While it can be a lot to keep up with, many dads welcome the opportunity to play with Barbies, even if it’s something new to them.

Kyle Goetz of Texas grew up with action figures and says that watching his 6-year-old daughter create a whole new universe with the dolls brings them closer together. He enjoys the opportunity to see how her brain works and how she changes voices as she plays with different dolls and acts out scenes.

“I love to see her use her imagination," Goetz says. "See her switch between herself and the doll, and [have] conversations. It gives me this space to watch her express who she is.”

In 2021 Sarah Gerson, a developmental psychologist at Cardiff University in Wales, published her research — titled Doll Play Prompts Social Thinking and Social Talking: Representations of the Internal State Language in the Brain — as part of a multi-year study partnership between the school and Mattel to explore doll play's impact on child development. Gerson tells Yahoo Life that her team's research found that playing with dolls, for both boys and girls, seems to mirror what happens when children interact with other people.

“We think this may allow them to practice social interactions in a way, and we’re currently looking into whether there are long-term benefits of this," Gerson says.

That finding rings true with her work colleague, Rhys Davies, who is himself a father of two Barbie fans.

“I like that they can open up to me in that way and it gives me a little insight into how they create these relationships with, and between, their dolls," Davies says. "It's also fun to just escape into their world for a while and be involved.”

The maker of Barbie, Mattel, has long embraced the idea of dads playing dolls with their daughters. A 2017 "Dads Who Play Barbie" ad campaign, featured dads — one of whom described himself as a "man's man" — sharing their daughters' love for the doll. The idea was to show the positive impact of play time, punctuated with a heartfelt tagline: “Time spent in her imaginary world is an investment in her real world.”

The ads also prompted other families to post their own father-daughter Barbie-playing moments on social media.

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