Evolution of Multicultural Barbies

By: Jennifer Tang  

The Barbie doll has long been vilified by feminists for its detrimental impact on female body image. In an age when toys are no longer branded by gender and technology has transformed the way children play and learn, it would appear that Barbie has little relevance. In an effort to halt this decline, Mattel has, in recent years, increasingly courted black, Hispanic, and Asian doll buyers. Currently there are more multicultural representations of Barbie than ever before. My paper will examine these efforts in the context of Mattel’s well-documented history of reluctance in integrating the Barbie line and its notable missteps (for example, its failed attempt in 1967 to introduce the first Black doll, an experiment that was roundly condemned by African American parents). I will also discuss how educators can use the history of multicultural Barbies (from the 1960s to the present) to teach students about colonialism, Western standards of beauty, and the reality of low-wage labor in developing countries. Lastly, I will argue that using popular icons such as Barbie are an imaginative way for educators to cover multidisciplinary ideas in a highly accessible but substantive way.

"Cultural Studies", " Critical Discourse", " Research Methods", " Future Directions", " Interdisciplinary"
Critical Cultural Studies
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Jennifer Tang

Acquistions & Outreach Librarian, Library, Hostos Community College, United States
New York, United States

I am currently Assistant Professor and Acquisitions/Outreach Librarian at Hostos Community College in New York City. I have worked in academic, medical and scientific institutions for more than ten years, including six years as a PR Manager for the New York Academy of Sciences. I graduated with an MLS from Pratt Institute in Library Science and an MFA in creative writing from Hunter College. In my spare time, I work as a freelance writer. My articles have been published in Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Fitness magazine, the New York Daily News, Newsday, and ezines such as Popmatters.