Barbie ‘Dolls of the World’: Cultured or clichéd?

Clad in a wide-brimmed hat, with the typical red tunic and Strathcona boots, “Canada Barbie” would have made the cut for an actual RCMP officer if it weren’t for her loose auburn hair.

On Monday, Sept. 23, the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan had stocked itself with 100 boxes of the doll. However, within five minutes of the doll’s photo hitting Twitter feeds, the shop began to receive calls for the dolls, and within 24 hours they were completely sold out. The Mountie Shop, which sells the dolls online, sold out in 48 hours. Nationally, the RCMP says 300 dolls were sold in one day.

Reportedly, 1 200 were made in the first run of an 11 000-doll production by Mattel, who don’t plan on making any more.

Canada is not the only country, however, to recently have its culture represented by the plastic figurine.

In 2011, Mattel, Inc. released a new collection of Barbie dolls entitled “Dolls of the World,” a limited-edition collection “designed to delight and excite with aspirational versions of historically iconic styles” as put by BarbieCollector.com. This collection is the largest and longest-running collection by Mattel, covering 30 years with over a 100 dolls adapting the images of international cultures into their outfits and accessories.

Linda Kyaw, a prolific designer of Barbie dolls, has said the dolls are “an incredible way for girls to explore the world through Barbie.”

But while it can be argued that the dolls project a positive take on their cultures, many have accused Mattel of exacerbating stereotypes.

Mexico Barbie comes dressed in a pink fiesta dress with a pet chihuahua at her side and a passport (standard for all dolls in the collection). But because of heightened sensitivity to Hispanic culture in the case of immigration, the idea of a passport being included with the doll has flooded online opinion boards with controversy.

Chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Felix Sanchez, has said the doll is “very dated and seems to have been created for a different time.” And Cristina Himka of  The Corvallis Advocate, an alternative newsweekly based in Corvallis, Oregon, has said, “Apparently no one from Mattel has ever set foot outside the U.S.—possibly not outside of Disneyland’s rather aged ‘It’s a Small World’ exhibit.”

However, NBCLatino contributor Monica Olivera, said she is “personally thrilled to see a big company like Mattel preserving these beautiful and historical costumes that are rich in symbolism, meaning, and history,” going on to say, “I think it is important for companies to recognize our culture and to make attempts to mainstream them with toys and other products.”

As mentioned, the dolls cover nearly every major international culture, for better or worse. China Barbie comes in a crimson silk dress and carries a baby panda; Australia Barbie is reminiscent of the outback, with a koala clinging to her arm; and India Barbie wears a gold sari and comes with a monkey.

Debate over whether or not the dolls are insensitive to cultural stereotypes will surely continue.

Barbie, as many know, is no stranger to controversy. The dolls have repeatedly been called unrealistic and have been accused of creating absurd ideas on body image for young women (for further reference, search for Nickolay Lamm’s 3D print of a Barbie with the proportions of an average 19-year-old female).

No one has taken legal action against Mattel for the doll collection, perhaps because no one has identified clear racial insensitivity by the company.

Leave a Reply