Growing up in Mexico City in the 90’s meant for me that I grew up in a completely different context from my parents. Since my parent’s generation did not have the luxury of foreign products, due to the economic restrictions on international goods, my parents grew up with yellow pencils made in Mexico and traditional ceramic and fabric dolls with braids and ribbons. Later, the economic shift towards neoliberal models and NAFTA brought along McDonald’s, Walmart and, of course, Barbie!
By the time I was five, all I wanted was a Barbie. My parents, while disappointed, succumbed to TV advertising, peer pressure, and the crushing of the traditional doll artisan workshops in the country. One of the worse parts was that MATTEL did not bother “adapting” Barbie to her new home… American Barbie was sold in Mexico. She was blond (her “minority” friends were not introduced until much later), she wore mini-skirts in a country where women’s clothing was restricted in the most conservative states, and she had a boyfriend in a society that highly appreciated marriage and restricted women’s sexuality in a variety of ways. Yet by the time I was 10, I had many Barbie dolls and I used to get together with my friends to play and argue for who would have the privilege of playing the “blond Barbie.”
Many years later, after moving to Canada, I realized that the Barbie phenomenon was not only about Mexico being America’s unfortunate neighbour, but rather a global process of gendered colonization, or imperialism as some Latin Americans describe it, that continues to perpetuate particular cultural, racial and societal standards. Barbie has become the model that shapes the idea of dolls all over the world and that serves as cultural battle field across countries.
My first encounter with a counter-Barbie doll, aside from the fake Barbies sold in Mexico, was in my mosque. One day one of my friend’s daughters brought along a black-haired Barbie doll that wore a black abaaya and a hijab. She was not properly a “Barbie” doll; instead she was the popular Middle Easter version called Fulla. A couple of years ago, Safiyyah discussed Fulla on MMW, in a piece that focused on women’s body image and the doll market; yet, Fulla seems to still be many families’ first choice when it comes to toys for girls. In my mosque, some girls design their own Fulla outfits and among the most popular are niqabs, burqas and short skirts (under abaayas). [Read more...]