Tracing the history of “Asian” Barbie

UPDATE August 2018:

Since I wrote my column, blogger and journalist, Kelly Kasulis, has written probably one of the most thorough pieces I have yet seen on the history of Mattel’s attempts at making an Asian American doll. I recommend reading it:


There are many odd and offputting aspects to Mattel’s relationship to various depictions of Asian characters in their dolls over the decades. Another one is that in 1976, well before the poorly thought out 1981 “Oriental Barbie” (sic), was the “Honey Hill Bunch” miniature play doll “I.Q.” With an adorable little girl face sculpt, she was just another one of little kids in the “playmate”-themed line. But that name… Its problematic nature was further emphasized by her one toy accessory being a “book.” (The other children had animals, flowers, a guitar, or a baseball bat.) “I.Q.’s” back of the box story similarly leaned heavily on a stereotype that became omnipresent in the media by the early ’80s. (

Kelly Kasulis

Curvy, petite, tall and original – using the hashtag #TheDollEvolves, Mattel announced its release of three new body types for their Barbie brand dolls last Thursday. As a lover of toys and a recent buyer of a 1988 South Korea Barbie, I checked the new collection for Asian representation and, no doubt, Asian barbies are included. But I noticed one other thing: there were nocurvy Asian dolls in the collection.

One of the everlasting stereotypes of Asian women is that they are naturally thin, and it seems that Mattel agrees – the company is arguably making a statement by omission when they exclude an Asian “curvy” doll. Such a statement, however, is lost in the excitement of an iconic brand marketing progressive ideas of inclusion, “evolution” and increased diversity; A quick analysis using and Social Mention show mostly neutral or positive use of the #TheDollEvolves hashtag online, with an estimated…

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