Friday, May 21, 2010

Driven out of Solitude

Well, folks, I'm back. I suppose I should apologize for the long lasting silence, the unanswered messages and emails, and my tendency to ignore things that are not in front of me, but I simply just don't feel like it. Besides, I'm told I apologize too much.

Many of you, I'm sure, have thought that I've fallen off the face of the planet, or that I'm ignoring you. I have been ignoring you. In fact, I've been ignoring almost everyone, so don't take it personally. You know that comatose state that happens after finals? Before finals week was officially over, I packed up my entire apartment and put it in my parent's mini van, left behind the majority of my friends that I won't be seeing for a rather long time, said goodbye to my (dashing and incredibly sensitive) boyfriend, and plopped my self down in Springport, Michigan.

There's nothing much wrong with Springport. It's a very... small town. I remember when I lived in Kentucky thinking that Campton was small. Campton at least had a grocery store and a downtown. Springport has... an ice cream stand.

I really shouldn't complain. My parents are letting me turn their house completely upside down and they're not making me pay rent for it.

Anyway, given that finals week was also moving week and good-bye week, I decided to be sick for a while and have spent a good portion of the last few weeks sleeping. It's been nice.

"So, Samantha," you ask, "What is it that you have come out of the crypt to tell us about? Why are you finally breaking the silence?"

Well, I'll tell you.


Not that it was ever on the forefront of my mind until I began dating a (handsome and wonderful) Chinese man, but do you realize that there are almost no Asian Barbies? I suppose if I'd thought about it before, it would have registered that I'd never seen one, but after almost three hours of research on the internet, I have come up with only five Barbies of vaguely Asian persuasion since 1990. This includes the Mulan doll, which, to my utter dismay, now only comes in a princess outfit!

"But, Samantha," you tell me, "We've always known that Mattel Inc wants our children to believe they're not beautiful unless they're a bodacious blonde! You can't expect racial sensitivity."

Have you walked down the doll aisle lately? On all sides, not only can you see the buxom blonde trollop, you can also see her African American and Latina friends. I did see a picture of an Asian doll on a display case earlier this year. By hand-searching the collector's website, I found her online. The three others I found were basically dressed as Geishas (though a discerning eye pointed out to me, the dolls marketed as Chinese were all sporting Japanese footwear).

I look back to my early days when my Barbies were my favorite pastime. I had names for all of them, family backgrounds and plot lines. My favorite was Teresa, who had straight brown hair like mine. I loved my dolls, and when I found out I was going to have a girl, it was one of the first things that came to mind. I was so excited at the thought of being able to share part of my childhood with my daughter. But what kind of message will she get if the only dolls that look like her are strange and exotic?

Barbie has brought on the appearance of progression. The new "Career Barbie" series has the dolls in TV chef settings and doctor's white coats. You can find these dolls in several ethnicities... but not Asian.

Thinking that perhaps it was something that the department had overlooked, I searched some of Mattel's other sites. They also own the franchise for Polly Pocket and American Girl, so I scoured those sites as well. There was no sign of Asian-ness anywhere to be found on the Polly Pocket site, but the site itself is so confusing and unhelpful, it wasn't astonishing.

What took me by surprise was American Girl, who I've always felt represented American history in a (somewhat biased but otherwise) all-inclusive manner. So imagine my chagrin when an hour of searching came up with one Asian doll, "Julie's Chinese friend, Ivy."

Take a good look, if you will... See, the thing that strikes me is that, besides her red outfit... she doesn't look Chinese!

(Wouldn't now be an interesting time to bring up World War II? Of course that chapter of our history would be too dark for American Girl. No wonder there's no Japanese doll.)

I just don't understand. Asian-Americans make up the third largest minority in the country! Is it because Mattel Inc. has been unsuccessful at marketing to Asian groups in the past? Or is it simply because they've decided adding a fourth ethnicity their collections would be too difficult? As the leading toy company of the decade, you'd think they'd have gone the extra mile.

So, tomorrow I think I'll make a few phone calls.


  1. Not that I'm trying to defend American Girl, but I'd hedge my bets that some publicist for the company would try defending their Chinese doll by pointing to its hair.

  2. this is so sad and true. i mean really, if you took that american girl doll and put her in something other than a cheongsam, she would not look even remotely asian. you'd think the toy companies would've noticed that there are more than three ethnicities in this country.

  3. I laughed out loud at this! You are SUCH a good writer. And I'm totally with you on this. I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for Asian dolls now.