How Barbie Failed Black and Brown Girls

Life in plastic isn’t fantastic if you aren’t blonde and blue-eyed.

2048px-Indian girl playing with Barbie dolls in a gated middle-class community in Bangalore
An Indian girl plays with Barbie dolls in Bangalore (Sabina von Kessel, Wikimedia)

Sadaf Ahsan


July 19, 2023


10 min

On Barbie’s 50th birthday, in February 2009 (yes, our girl’s a Pisces), New York Fashion Week hosted a special Barbie-inspired show, where models took to the runway styled as the doll. Needless to say, there was a lot of pink.

Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger said at the 2009 show, “Barbie is the quintessential American icon...transcending generations and cultures.” Another designer, Catherine Malandrino, said that Barbie “was my first relationship with an American woman, growing up in the French Alps. I thought Americans were very blonde, curvy, and big hair.” 

With one look at the doll, so did many around the world. Despite toy manufacturer Mattel’s many efforts toward global domination, few regions have taken to the doll outside of the West. In fact, across growing toy industries, from India to China to Mexico, Barbie has been a critical and commercial failure.

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