Culture Fail: Barbies of the World – Just Racism?

Barbies, those tall, skinny-yet-seductively-curved dolls that give grown women nightmares, let little girls imagine life as an adult—meeting boyfriends, getting married, and having children with their dreamboat, Ken. Yes, beginning in the late 1950s, Barbie enthusiastically thrust her bosoms into the fight to keep women focused on their breast and waist sizes rather than their intelligence and career paths. But since then we’ve learned that if Barbie were life-sized, she would stand 5’ 9” and would have only size 5 shoes. Her breast size would be a larger-end D cup, yet her waist would be only 10 to 15 inches. If Barbie were real, she would never be able to menstruate or even get herself off the couch.

Now, after over 40 years of Barbie, her boyfriend Ken, and a whole pile of controversies, Mattel has created a new, shockingly racist line of the still-popular toy. In “Barbies of the World,” you can find a Barbie from China, Australia, Argentina, Ireland, India, Holland, Chile, and Mexico. Each cultural Barbie comes clad in an outfit hugely stereotypical of their idealized traditions, and with a pet that supposedly signifies the culture as well, but is more often completely unrealistic. While the intent to teach children about different cultures is commendable, Barbies of the World do nothing but disseminate cultural stereotypes. And we can only conclude that African Barbie is even now sipping Shirley Temples on her Barbie Dream Yacht off the Cape of Good Hope—obviously that’s why she’s missing.

Mexican Barbie comes clad in a quinceanera dress and has a pet Chihuahua, because clearly Mexicans only (and always) have Chihuahuas. Chinese Barbie comes with a pet panda, and Barbie from India has a pet monkey. Apparently no one from Mattel has ever set foot outside the US—possibly not outside of Disneyland’s rather aged “It’s a Small World” exhibit.

The Barbies of the World television commercial ends with the Barbies in their boxes on a shelf in a young girl’s room. When the painfully stereotypical mother asks her daughter which Barbie she’d like to shamelessly emulate today, the child picks a Barbie from one of the countries, and magically the girl is clothed in this particular Barbie’s native dress, holding their completely unrealistic pet. You, too, should want to look like Barbie!

So what is the lesson here? Not only has the Barbie doll proven for 40 years that it is a ridiculous and unhealthy representation of the female form, but now designers at Mattel have apparently stepped up their game to reduce women of various cultures to colorful clothing and ridiculous pets. It’s like saying every American lives like the embarrassing characters on Jersey Shore—we don’t, by the way.


By: Cristina Himka