Did you know that if Barbie was a real woman with those proportions, she’d have to carry her kidneys in her purse?
Lani Diane Rich, Time Off for Good Behavior
Periodically Mattel updates its Barbies of the World collection. Over time (1989 to 1996 to 2012) the Mexican Barbie has evolved as shown in the three photos below. I’ve lived in Mexico now for five months and have yet to see outfits like these worn by anyone except those who sell crafts or souvenirs at some of the tianguis, craft fairs, or around the Jardin. Everyday I see younger women in my neighborhood wearing AERO t-shirts, Hollister t-shirts, leggings, sweats, hoodies, tank tops, and jeans while abuelas wear dresses, often in earth tones, and shawls that are frequently colorful solids. In El Centro I might see tailored suits (pantsuits and skirt suits) worn by office workers and on weekends the chicas from Mexico City appear wearing fashionable club clothes.
The Mexican Barbie motif is not atypical of the dolls in the series. The images below show the international Barbies (2012-2013 editions): the packaging for each doll includes a passport and many of the dolls hold a pet on or under an arm.
Of all the nationalities represented, I think the Dutch and French should be most offended, with Australians following closely behind. The three dolls all look like Americans on vacation or actors in an elementary school drama. Don’t believe me? Look at Ken and Barbie on vacation in 1964 (back in the days when middle-class Americans [remember them?] could afford to take a vacation).
Second, I think the doll portrays a
- Mexican Drew Barrymorish Legally Blondish character with her pup tucked under her arm on her way to Harvard Law (ditto with the Chilean and Argentinian dolls – I have no idea whether Australians go around with koalas gnawing on their forearms or if Indians have monkeys climbing their limbs or whether Chinese have endangered Pandas as pets). I’m somewhat surprised that PETA or Greenpeace or another organization has not jumped into the fray.
- Non-representative dog – while Chihuahuas are popular in Mexico as elsewhere, exotic purebreds and hybrids are far more fashionable and in-demand. The doll shows Mexican women as being seriously out of style. While I haven’t performed a dog-owner census, I’m going to state that Chihuahuas may be more popular with ex-pats than with Mexicans. A pit bull or mixed-breed pit bull is definitely de moda.
- Mexican female who belongs to the Ballet Folklorico. There is nothing wrong with this and perhaps Mattel would win points if they recognized this.
Shine from Yahoo! recently published Barbies of the World: Realistic or Racist? My brain started to reel as I read. One of the questions raised was “is the Mexican Barbie an example of racism at work?”
Mexicans, like Canadians or Americans, the French or Tanzanians, the Chinese or Saudis, are not a race but a nationality. A person from the country of Mexico might be bi-racial or multi-racial or be part of a single ethnic group that lives here.
If we’re clear on that, than should our Mexican Barbie be portrayed as an indigenous Mexican? or Mestizo? How about Criollo? White? Arab-Mexican or Afro-Mexican? from the Pacific Coast, Gulf Coast, or Carribbean? From the Central Highlands? Perhaps the northern deserts? From Puebla? Oaxaca? Mexico City (where 1/5 of the country lives)? or Chiapas? If indigenous, from Aztec ancestry? or Mayan? or Otomi? Nahuatl? Zapotec? Mixe? Mazateco?
The Yahoo article wasn’t original (as other news sources – including NPR – had published earlier versions of the story), but it drew the most responses of any that I read. I scanned the 230 responses and noticed that the complaints seemed to be:
- “Here come the PC police again”
- The dolls aren’t offensive – it’s how Mexicans look
- That Mattel got it “wrong” and the commenter then provided stereotypical bigoted comments regarding Mexicans or Mexican-Americans
I toyed with the idea of reproducing some of the bigoted commentary, but thought that the comments portrayed Americans in too negative a light. Contrary to most of the commentary, someone named TAMM seemed to have identified the situation perfectly.
It bothers me that people are having so many issues with this new doll for not looking “authentic”. It seems like they wanted these retro outfits which are not really that “authentic”, either. Perhaps years ago, but nowadays if you visit Mexico no one is dressed like that. Not unless they work in a VERY touristy area.
The Cinco de Mayo Doll
This is one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve seen.