Diverse Barbies Remain Idealistic Bombshells

By Guest Columnist Oct 13, 2009

Written by Nina Jacinto. This post originally appeared on Wiretapmag.org Our favorite Barbie doll company has come out with a "So in Style" line, which aims to portray black women in a more realistic light than it has since the doll first launched in the 1960s. On one hand, this is a genuinely fair and worthwhile aim — to take a product that is presumably not leaving popular culture’s toolkit for young girls any time soon and make it more relate-able for women of color. On the other hand, it frustrates me overall that Barbie continues to be in this toolkit — that mainstream media and culture continue to thrust Barbies at young women. The dolls maintain their super skinny size and unrealistic proportions, spreading the message that Barbie has for years — that women can do anything, if they’re super hot and feminine looking. I and other South Asian women felt similarly conflicted in 2006, when Mattel released Diwali Barbie — a South Asian Barbie doll specifically geared towards the traditional Hindu holiday. The original text Mattel used to sell Diwali Barbie is what really had my eyes popping out of my head.

"The most important and magical festival celebrated in India is Diwali. Homes are decorated with marigolds and mango leaves, thousands of oil diyas or lamps are lit as auspicious symbols of good luck, and everyone enjoys sweets to the sound of firecrackers and revelers. Diwali Barbie doll wears a traditional teal sari with golden detailing, a lovely pink shawl wrap, and exotic jewelry. The final detail is a bindi on the forehead — a jewel or a mark worn by Hindu women to indicate that they are married. Doll cannot stand alone."

I know, I know. "But this is to diversify for all the brown children who need a Barbie to look up to!" Actually, if we wanted little Indian children running around and worshiping a disproportionately tall woman whose skin is unnaturally white and lives up to the standards of the "exotic" in the West, we could just point them to real-life models and actresses. I think the thing that kills me is how white looking she is. Her skin is so pale and she’s letting her buyers feel like they can never live up to true Indian beauty standards. What’s most ironic is that the "doll cannot stand alone." Thank you, Barbie, for reminding us that at the end of the day, no woman should really be able to stand alone.