After writing the last post about young girls of color and which dolls they prefer, I was bothered by the fact that I couldn’t remember what the Indian Barbie doll I had when I was little looked like (maybe when I get home once the semester is done, I’ll look through all the closets in the house for it…). So I did some research on Mattel’s history of releasing South Asia-related Barbie dolls, and found these two:
India Barbie – released in 1982, as a Special Edition, part of the ‘Dolls of the World – Asia’ line
India Barbie 2nd Edition, released in 1996, as part of the Collector Edition for the same ‘Dolls of the World’ line:
Is it just me, or is the 2nd Edition doll noticeably darker than the original? I wonder what happened in those fourteen years to make Mattel want its doll to represent and appeal to a different, broader range of young South Asian girls (including me, because I think this is the one I had and might still have lying around somewhere)… Also, the 2nd edition doll is presented in a much more noticeably “ethnic” context (the Taj Mahal, of course).
It’s too bad that Mattel didn’t get the costume/terminology right in either case:
- The 1982 edition is described as wearing a “three-piece sari, including a long rusty red skirt, matching wrap, both trimmed with golden thread, and golden halter-top.” Uhh, sorry, but that’s not a sari… it’s a skirt, a halter top, and a shawl. A sari is a looong singular piece of cloth wrapped around the body in different styles. Great job, Mattel.
- The 1996 edition is definitely a lot better. However, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how the doll wears both a “traditional costume from far away India” and a “modern, Indian sari.” Huh? As for the “simple hand ring,” I believe it’s called a ‘bangle.’
I’m not the only one debating the authenticity of Mattel’s descriptions about its ‘Dolls of the World.’ Nirali Magazine points us toward a discussion by several Indian-American writers/bloggers/professors about the Diwali Barbie Doll released last year as part of the ‘Dolls of the World – Festivals of the World’ line.
So at the same time that it explicitly exoticizes Indian Barbies (“far away India,” “exotic-style jewelry”) presumbably in order to differentiate them from its other products (and therefore make them more appealing to consumers), Mattel can’t seem to get the facts straight. Ironically enough, I wonder how many of the company’s products are made in India. And how young the workers in those factories may be.