Thursday, March 19, 2009

Barbie Bombs Over Shanghai

With the announcement of a new Barbie Superstore opening in Shanghai later this year, Mattel claims its export of gold-headed dolls will be loved as quintessentially “American” by the natives.

A little Chinese-American girl growing up in the ‘70s Bronx, I longed for a Barbie that looked like me. I tried the toy shelves at Alexander’s Department store, Woolworth’s, and Toys R’ Us. No matter where I went, blonde dolls stared out at me from behind cellophane windows. Mattel described shades as sun-kissed, streaked, or golden. They all looked like the same bitch to me.

I tried dipping Barbie’s hair into black paint, but it stiffened making her look electrocuted. I stared at her quietly, an outsider peeking at Aryan Nation. I gave up, resigning myself because I couldn’t resist Barbie’s luxurious wardrobe and accessories. I amassed enough dolls to stock a mini-Playboy mansion.

Flash forward thirty years. While Mattel has integrated the Barbie line with a number of Asian-looking Barbies, they are mostly “international world dolls” or “special collection.” To date, there is no stock issue “Asian-American Barbie” to pick up casually at Walgreens.

It was with mixed feelings I attended Barbie’s 50th birthday bash at Sidebar, off Union Square. Instead of plucking cellophane boxes from a toy store, I found myself downing drinks and photographing a nest of real life Barbies.

After a few whisky sours, my mood began to change. Among the contestants vying for top prize in a Barbie beauty contest was a drag queen, a middle-aged fashion buyer, and a gorgeous African-American model. All those years wishing for an Asian Barbie, the one place I hadn’t thought to look was a mirror. With my 36-32-40 measurements and bountiful cleavage, I was the model I was looking for—my own Chinese-American Barbie, all the time.

Recession Barbie was the 1st Prize winner. She went around with a black hat, collecting money from everyone. When Barbie suffers, you know it’s bad. What Ken will do when he’s laid off, I don’t want to think about.

-Jennifer Tang


Anonymous said...

whiskey sour + real life barbies=real life realization love it!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It's weird, you would think if they are opening a store in Shanghai that they would want to have some Asian looking barbies in that mix. I don't know this 50th birthday nonsense is getting to me.