; ; 10 May 2017

Ethnicity, Race and Cultural Appropriation with Barbie

by Philippa Duployen

Image by Ju Hee Hong

My essay looked at the Barbie doll in relation to race, ethnicity and cultural appropriation from within the time period 1967-2016. In attempt of including more diversity within their Barbie range, Mattel have over the years, created different dolls representing different races, ethnicities and cultures. The dolls that have been released have been the subject of much criticism, much of which accuses Mattel of stereotyping and appropriation. I examined the materiality of the dolls, the marketing and the characterization produced by Mattel and also the appropriation made by the consumer. The design changes whilst at times showed some progression in terms of representation, presented more stereotypes and sometimes false information, especially regarding the traditions of the Native Americans.

For the publication, it was fun to turn the essay into a visual form especially since Barbie is such a global phenomenon and instantly recognisable. Working with Juhee from Visual Communications, we started to think about how to deconstruct Barbie as well as highlight the markers of culture race and ethnicity that the different Barbies had. We chose to use a Barbie box packaging style on one of the pages, as the boxes were key in showcasing the different accessories the Barbie came with. On the other page, Barbie is still recognisable but is without her long hair and is shown with different facial features. These reflect the design changes, and within this, the sculpted features that Mattel has created for its dolls.

Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.
Related Articles