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Barbie- Still the Same

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I had to write about Barbie for this assignment; my childhood ties are so strong (I know, like millions of other kids…). But Barbies took a kind of special place in my home- while I had a few, it was my brother (3 years my senior) who had the real collection. My brother would spend hours creating elaborate sets, talk shows, outfits, scenarios, you name it. It is often his Barbie obsession that people raise their eyebrows at when looking for clues of his homosexuality in our childhood past.

The issue of gender identity is a very complicated one- yet I know that my brother identified with women. Perhaps this is why he liked female Barbies so much. This would fit into the idea that children want toys to represent themselves.

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For Christmas (when I was 4 and my brother was 7), my parents gave my brother and I deluxe Barbies for Christmas. My brother received the beautiful (white) swan princess, and I received the handsome (“African American?) Ken doll in a glittery white tuxedo. I didn’t really like him, and I was jealous of my brother’s princess.

The “Ethnically Correct Dolls? reading talks about the commodification of race in toys, and the Barbie website (even in the year 2007) seems to back this up entirely. Through browsing over much of the site, every image of a girl or Barbie as a representative image is white. The only time the Bride Barbie [(AA) next to it, for “African American?] will come up is under a product search. The descriptions for the Bride Barbies are exactly the same, but one has (AA) in her title. The same goes for the grooms. For the women dolls, the Bride Barbies looks to be entirely the same save for color- they share the same, glossy long nylon hair and pert features.

The scarcity of the black dolls (and much more infrequent Latina, Hawaiian, etc.) definitely fits in with the “commodity? theory. As if only someone looking and specifically inclined to buy a black doll would do it- they seem to be set aside, special, for those “special? situations in which the doll is being purchased for and used by a black child. When I visited the Cabbage Patch website, I had similar findings. Although the race wasn’t included in the product description, I had to actively seek out the ethnic dolls (perhaps one on each page of 10 or so) and I had to scrutinize them very closely.
I have to wonder why so many Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls alike have red hair, if indeed 1% of the white population has this trait. The percentage of people with different skin tones far exceeds this red hair color rarity- there must be 3-4 Cabbage Patch Kids with red hair for every ethnic one.

I applaud my parents for trying to break boundaries, at least on a small level, in our home. I ended up liking my black prince charming (until one day my brother’s friend threw him up into the neighbor’s storm drain). We ran out the day the Barbie with “realistic weight? was released, bouncing up and sown in the car shouting “we want the fat Barbie!? She wasn’t even voluptuous. But that’s what you must expect from Barbie, I suppose. It seems the divides are as strict as ever.