27 Shocking Things That Have Been Done To Barbie

This story was originally published on March 9, 2016.
March 9 is National Barbie Day. I assume we’re all wearing our best waist cinchers and sky-high heels while aspiring to unrealistic body standards in observance of the occasion. Barbie Millicent Roberts, who hails from the fictional town of Willows, WI, first hit the scene in 1959. According to this vintage commercial, you could buy the first Barbie doll for just $3. Her outfits and accessories ranged in price from $1 to $5.

Barbie has had many identities and gone through a lot of changes since then. She’s also assumed the guise of many celebrities — some of them quite surprising. Even though Barbie has been everything from an astronaut to a computer engineer (what a kerfuffle that turned out to be), it wasn’t until 2004 that she got a belly button. And it wasn’t until 2016 that Mattel announced it’s introducing three new body types to its Fashionistas range of dolls. The new Barbies come in curvy, tall, and petite body types, and they're also available in seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, and 24 hairstyles.

The public outcry to make Barbie more reflective of the real world isn’t the first time the iconic doll has faced controversy. And as you’ll discover from this slideshow, Barbie has weathered far more than just controversy during her 57 years. There have also been some very weird moments in her and all her friends and boyfriends’ lives, several interesting artistic adaptations of her famous form, and — of course — who could forget Aqua’s 1997 hit “Barbie Girl?”
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From the weird and wacky to the downright tacky, it really is a Barbie world. Now come on Barbie, let’s go party.
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Photos: Courtesy of Mattel.
Slumber Party Barbie
This Barbie, which was released in 1965, had everything she needed for an epic night with her best pals: pajamas, curlers, bobby pins, a brush, a scale that was permanently set to 110 pounds, and a book called How to Lose Weight. The only advice it offered? “Don’t eat.”

According to the Daily Mail, Mattel released an updated version of the doll called Sleepytime Gal that came without the scale in 1966. She still came with her book and its one important message, though.
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Growing Up Skipper
According to the commercial, when you turn Skipper’s arm, she “change[s] instantly from a little girl to a tall, slender teenage doll — which is something you can’t do!”

Growing Up Skipper starts out as a younger-looking girl, and then grows an inch and sprouts breasts so that she can wear “her glamorous teenage skirt.” She’s “two dolls in one, for two types of fun!” What does that even mean, 1970's Mattel!?
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Kissing Barbie
File under: Barbies that exist. Released in 1979.
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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Image.
The National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention
This might not strike you as strange, weird, or shocking, but it bears mentioning that just like most cultural phenomena that have developed a cult following, Barbie collectors have their very own convention. Mattel even makes special edition souvenir dolls specifically for these annual gatherings. The 2016 convention (the 36th one) will be held in Jacksonville, FL, from July 27 to 30.

Pictured: Barbie dolls for sale during the 2015 National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention in Arlington, VA.
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Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
In Todd Haynes' 1987 graduate student film, he tells singer Karen Carpenter’s life story using Barbie dolls. Haynes whittled the dolls down to portray Carpenter’s emaciation toward her death due to complications from anorexia.
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Photo: Marianne Barcellona/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images.
The Mysterious Cross-Dressed Ken Doll
A Ken doll wearing a dress and carrying a purse appeared on a shelf in a Tampa Toys 'R' Us one day in 1990. His box says “My First Ken,” and the doll’s tagline reads, “He’s a handsome prince!” The image on the box shows Ken wearing a more traditional prince’s outfit and posing with Barbie, who’s wearing the dress that Ken is wearing in the box, so clearly he has on Barbie’s clothing. Carina Guillot, who decided to purchase the doll, wondered if this cross-dressed Ken doll was a sign that Mattel was moving toward a more open-minded future.

Of course not. The doll’s outfit was merely a store clerk’s prank. When Ron Zero confessed to higher-ups at the Toys 'R' Us where he worked that he’d changed Ken’s clothes one night, the clerk got fired. “We always did crazy things like that," Zero said at the time. "We'd hang dolls in the aisle or put Ken and Barbie in the Barbie house with Barbie spanking Ken.”

According to the Los Angeles Times — via the Associated Press — “The doll quickly became a national spectacle — spoofed by Arsenio Hall, featured on The Joan Rivers Show and in Newsweek and Fortune magazines.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Wash & Watch Dishwasher Barbie
Dream big, girls, and one day you might be able to both wash and watch dishes! The saddest part is that this set is from 1991. Also, what's with all the easy-to-lose choking-hazard parts like the tiny forks, knives, and plates, Mattel?
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Teen Talk Barbie
"Math class is tough!”

“Party dresses are fun!”

“Do you have a crush on anyone?”

In 1992, Mattel introduced Teen Talk Barbie, which could say 270 different phrases, including the three above. After the American Association of University Women complained about the “math class is tough!” comment, however, Mattel updated the computer chips in all newly manufactured versions of the doll to omit that phrase. Rather than issuing a recall, Mattel allowed customers who had purchased dolls that said “math class is tough” to bring them into stores and swap them for the newer versions.

“In hindsight, the phrase 'math class is tough,' while correct for many students both male and female, should not have been included. We didn't fully consider the potentially negative implications of this phrase,” Jill E. Barad, Mattel’s president at the time, wrote in a letter to Sharon Schuster, the president of the American Association of University Women.
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Baywatch Barbie
Baywatch is a TV series that ran from 1989 to 2001. Despite its surprising longevity, it really wasn’t a program whose target demographic (Chandler and Joey from Friends; people who liked to watch women wearing high-cut bathing suits run in slow-motion) intersected with Barbie’s. Therefore, it’s a little surprising to learn that not only did Mattel make a Baywatch Barbie (and Ken) in 1994, it marketed the doll not as one for collectors, but one that should be purchased for young girls to play with — alongside her “dolphin friend.” Baywatch Ken came with a WaveRunner.
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Shaving Fun Ken
Hey, kids! Do you have a very specific fantasy of shaving a burly mountain man’s beard? Then Shaving Fun Ken is the doll for you!

I do have a theory, though, that this specific Mattel doll from 1995 might just explain the lumbersexual craze.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Share A Smile Becky
In 1996, Barbie’s friend Becky arrived in stores. Mattel had good intentions: Becky, who was in a wheelchair, marked an effort for Barbies to be more inclusive, and the original package notes, “This doll benefits the National Parent Network on Disabilities & the National Lekotek Center.”

Unfortunately, Mattel soon got into hot water when Kjersti Johnson, a 17-year-old with cerebral palsy, noticed that Becky’s wheelchair didn’t fit through the door of one of Barbie’s three Dream Houses. “How ironic and true...housing for people with disabilities that is not accessible! Mattel said they will redesign the houses in the future to accommodate...now if it were that easy for the rest of us!” Johnson wrote in a note along with a college student named Priscilla Wong, both of whom were involved with the Disability Opportunities Internet Technology program at the University of Washington.

"This is the first fashion doll that comes in a wheelchair and it's a new initiative for us. Dream House has been out for years, and two of the three houses are accessible...We have a commitment to incorporating accessibility into all our Barbie accessories that we do in the future,” Lisa McKendall, a Mattel spokesperson, said in response to Johnson and Wong’s note.

The company released the new Barbie Folding Pretty House, which had a wider front door and no stairs, in response to the incident.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Oreo Fun Barbie
In 1997, Oreo and Nabisco teamed up to make “Oreo Fun Barbie.” Mattel manufactured both Caucasian and African-American versions of the doll, but it was the latter that caused controversy. Mattel received backlash for the doll because Oreo is used in a derogatory manner to insult Black people who others perceive as acting or identifying as white.

Despite the controversy, Mattel released a “School Time Fun” edition of Oreo Barbie in 2001.
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Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”
The year was 1997. We were all rocking out to the extreme dose of girl power that had arrived on our shores that January in the form of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” But a more ominous presence was on its way from Europe — one that would somehow careen into the zeitgeist in a way that you might say foreshadowed the current nostalgia boom in which we find ourselves. I’m talking, of course, about Danish-Norwegian dance-pop group Aqua’s earworm of a hit single “Barbie Girl.” Sample lyrics:

“Hiya Barbie!
Hi Ken!
Do you want to go for a ride?
Sure Ken.
Jump in!

I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.
Life in plastic, it's fantastic.
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere.
Imagination, life is your creation.
Come on Barbie, let's go party!”

Once the song is in your head, it never leaves. Mattel wasn’t too happy about the single or its music video, which features Aqua’s Lene Nystrøm as Barbie and René Dif as Ken. According to Rolling Stone, the company sued MCA Records, Inc., and Universal Music & Video Distribution Inc. for “trademark infringement and dilution resulting from the alleged unauthorized use of the toy manufacturer's Barbie doll trademarks and likeness.” The suit alleged that the songs lyrics “associate sexual and other unsavory themes with Mattel's Barbie products,” and cited certain lyrics in particular. These included, “[M]ake me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please, I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees.” and “[K]iss me here, touch me there, hanky panky.”

MCA countersued Mattel for defamation.

After Mattel's suit was thrown out in lower courts, the company continued to appeal. Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski upheld the lower court’s rulings, which threw out both suits, issuing the epic verdict, “[T]he parties are advised to chill.”

Mattel tried to take its case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the case. SCOTUS stood by the federal appeals court ruling that dismissed the case because “Barbie Girl” is a parody, and is therefore protected as free speech.
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Photos: Courtesy of Mattel.
Midge & Baby
Midge is actually Barbie’s oldest friend. According to CBS News, she was introduced in 1963, then married a boy doll named Alan in 1991, and they had a son named Ryan, presumably in 1999, because he was 3 at the time of the controversy surrounding his new sibling.

In 2002, Midge, Alan, Ryan, and the new baby were part of Mattel’s new set of “Happy Family” dolls. Per an article on Barbie.com (cited by CBS News), the dolls were designed to "satisfy the desire for nurturing play by girls ages 5 to 8" — ahem, gender stereotyping much? — "and can be ‘a wonderful prop for parents to use with their children to role-play family situations — especially in families anticipating the arrival of a new sibling.’"

The problem was that the pregnant Midge, who had a magnetic belly that doll-owners could detach to “deliver” her new baby inside, was sold separately from the rest of her “Happy Family.” No one seemed to care that Midge looked terrifying with her magnetic belly removed and the fetus exposed. Even though she had a tiny white wedding ring, and Alan and Ryan were pictured on the Midge & Baby packaging, many customers thought that Mattel was either advocating teen pregnancy (some people thought Midge looked too young to be pregnant) or having a baby out of wedlock (others thought she was single since she was sold with just her baby, sans husband).

Walmart pulled the entire Happy Family set from shelves following customer complaints.
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Altered Barbie
Altered Barbie is a community of artists that started in San Francisco in 2002. In 2003, Julie Andersen and Chatterbox Int’l started hosting Altered Barbie shows to help artists exhibit their work. For a work to be considered for the Altered Barbie site or show, “All submissions must interpret, comment on, or criticize what Barbie or Ken mean to you. Dolls that are acceptable are: Barbie and Barbie like dolls, Christie, Courtney, Gillian, Kayla, Midge, Ken and Ken like dolls, Raquelle, Skipper, Tia, etc...We are looking for all mediums!”
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Barbie Forever Barbie Doll With Tanner The Dog
There is something to be said for teaching kids how to clean up after their dogs. Nevertheless, there’s also something to be said about giving small children extreme choking hazards in the form of tiny nuggets of magnetic poop that come out of Tanner the Dog’s butt, which Barbie is supposed to clean up with her magnetic scooper. As you can imagine, this came to be known as “Pooper-Scooper Barbie.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Arsenic and Apple Pie.
Trailer Trash Dolls
The Trailer Trash Dolls, which aren’t technically Barbies yet are clearly inspired by them, come in several characters. JerWayne and Turleen emerged in 2006. According to the Daily Mail, Turleen is “barefoot, leather-jacketed, and pregnant,” and her catchphrases (yes, the dolls speak) include, “Pour me a double, “I’m drinkin’ fer two,” and, “If the trailer’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’.” JerWayne has a button that, when pressed, makes him fart or utter phrases like, “Fifteen of dem beers and yer still ugly.” JerWayne and Terleen are manufactured by Gibby Novelties.

Then, there’s Trailer Trash Girl (pictured here), which is made by a company called Arsenic and Apple Pie. She doesn’t speak, but she comes with accessories including a six-pack of beer and the lit cigarette in her mouth. She also has quite the backstory. “Conceived in a gas station bathroom, and born in the back of a station wagon in the Bowlarama parking lot on league night. This little honey was raised on the four basic food groups (meatwiches, oleo, government cheese, and beer). Possessed of an I.Q. that makes her ancestors proud, she is the first of her family to make it through the third grade. She would have finished the fourth if she had not made the mature decision to stay home with her first-born son. Also a model working mom, even after a hard day gathering carts at the Honk & Holler, she still finds time to carve and fry the Christmas bologna.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds Barbie
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie The Birds is a classic tale of terror with an iconic climactic scene that we’d all rather forget if we ever want to be in the vicinity of a feathered creature again. So why not commemorate that scene, during which actress Tippi Hedren gets mauled by birds, with a Barbie doll?

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds Barbie Doll was released in 2008 to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the film. It costs $25, and the product description not only notes that it’s “for the adult collector,” it also includes a special note to parents that reads, “The Birds is rated PG-13.” You know, just in case you were still considering giving a Barbie with a pained expression on her face because she's being attacked by birds to a child.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Computer Engineer Barbie
In the book Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, which accompanied Mattel’s I Can Be a Computer Engineer Barbie Doll, Barbie tries to create a computer game. Despite being called Computer Engineer Barbie, though, she’s actually only capable of handling the design and user experience part of the game. Barbie actually needs the help of two men named Steven and Brian to “turn [her idea] into a real game.”

That’s not the only time Computer Engineer Barbie needs men to rescue her in this problematic tale. Barbie also gets a computer virus and gives Skipper’s computer the same virus, because it’s actually Barbie’s flash drive that’s infected. Brian and Steven save the day by fixing Barbie’s flash drive and computer. They also rescue Skipper’s lost homework. Barbie is so lucky to have men like Brian and Steven around!

If that tale made you gag a little, you’re not alone. The backlash to Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer was strong. Although the book was first published in 2010, it wasn’t until 2014 that it started to gain negative attention. In response to the incorrect portrayal of Barbie as a “computer engineer,” Kathleen Tuite, a computer scientist, created the site Feminist Hacker Barbie so users could upload their own versions of the pages with new and improved text.

Mattel also issued an apology for the book’s plotline on its Facebook page. It also ceased publishing the book. “The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl's imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character,” the company wrote.
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Video Girl Barbie
Video Girl Barbie was a popular holiday gift in 2010. Some people thought that “video girl” wasn’t the best name for a Barbie doll, as it might perpetuate the stereotype of video girls seen in rap videos.

There was actually a much worse problem with Video Girl Barbie, though. The FBI issued an alert that the fully functional video camera in her chest might be used to record child pornography. “The alert’s intent was to ensure law enforcement agencies were aware that the doll, like any other video-capable equipment, could contain evidence and to not disregard such an item during a search,” the FBI’s statement read.

The FBI alert was never supposed to be seen by the press, and of course it became a nightmare for Mattel, which had to issue a statement of its own. “The FBI is not reporting that anything has happened. Steve Dupre from the FBI Sacramento field office has confirmed there have been no incidents of this doll being used as anything other than as intended. Mattel products are designed with children and their best interests in mind. Many of Mattel's employees are parents themselves, and we understand the importance of child safety — it is our number one priority.”

Buy a Video Girl Barbie at your own risk, basically.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Tokidoki Barbie
First, a little backstory: In 2009, Mattel collaborated with Harley Davidson to manufacture a Barbie doll with large wings tattooed on her back. That same year, Mattel introduced Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie. The doll comes with tattoos for dolls (in the form of stickers) and owners (which are temporary), as well as a tattoo gun. Parents weren’t happy with the tattoo gun, nor were they amused with the fact that some of the tattoos appeared to be of the “tramp stamp” variety.

Cut to 2011, when Mattel decided to release a Barbie that came pre-tattooed. The tokidoki Barbie Doll costs $50 and is listed on The Barbie Collection website as being intended “for the adult collector.” That didn’t stop the outrage.

“It's teaching kids to want tattoos before they are old enough to dress like that,” Kevin Buckner of Virginia told a local television station, per Reuters. Other parents had similar complaints, but the tokidoki Barbie was still sold on The Barbie Collection site. Mattel actually released two more versions in 2015.
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Photo: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
Barbie & Ken Break Up
In 2004, after more than 43 years together, Mattel decided to reveal in a press release that “Hollywood’s quintessential ‘doll’ of a couple, Barbie and Ken, have decided to spend some time apart... The storybook romance comes to an end for Barbie and Ken.”

We learned more about Barbie and Ken’s whirlwind romance from that press release than we ever really needed to know. They met on the set of their first television commercial together in 1961. I think it’s safe to assume they started dating because they were both plastic dolls with outlandish proportions, and neither of them had real genitals.

The couple also seemed to enjoy role play a lot. Mattel talks about “their replications of classic characters such as Scarlett and Rhett from Gone with the Wind, and Romeo and Juliet, to more quirky roles such as Bond and Bond Girl, and Lily and Herman Munster from The Munsters.” Barbie and Ken even played Arwen and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Even though they had now agreed to “spend some quality time apart... Barbie and Ken will always remain the best of friends.”
Well, Barbie decided to make the most of her time away from Ken. She had a rebound fling with a hot Australian surfer named Blaine. Fans were actually able to vote on Barbie’s rebound choice by logging into Mattel.com, which seems kind of sketchy, because shouldn't a woman be able to choose her own manpanions? Many cynical adults saw the move by Mattel — whose sales were flagging in 2004 — for what it was: a publicity stunt, which yes, yes it was. These are friggin’ dolls, people.

Anyway, after enjoying some time with a fella from down unda, Barbie decided to return to the comfort of Ken. The two reunited in 2011. Barbie announced the news on her official Facebook page on Valentine’s Day.

“Yes it’s true… after seven long years apart, Ken and I have decided to rekindle our romance. A doll knows when it’s love, and I’ve finally realized that my heart only beats for Ken.”

At press time, it remains unclear how Blaine is nursing his broken heart, although he appears to have relocated to California, possibly to be closer to his ex.

Pictured: Barbie and Ken appear in an advertisement outside the Nasdaq Market in New York City on February 15, 2011, to celebrate their reconciliation. Mattel’s CEO Robert A. Eckert rang the Nasdaq opening bell that day to mark the occasion.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
"Happy Birthday, Ken" Barbie Doll
Wouldn’t you know it: The very same day Barbie and Ken got back together, Mattel had a special collector’s edition Barbie doll ready to release, timed not only to their joyous reunion, but also to the Ken doll’s 50th anniversary. The timing seems almost too serendipitous.

It’s not really the timing that’s glaring, though. Nor is it the fact that there’s a special edition Barbie called the “Happy Birthday, Ken” doll. No; the real red flag about this particular Barbie is that it’s intended for ages 6 and over, but the description reads, “Wearing her most eye-catching, show-stopping outfit to present Ken with his birthday ‘gift,’ Barbie is every bit the beautiful birthday present herself.”

Why is gift in quotation marks? Doesn’t it sound a little seedy to call Barbie “every bit the beautiful birthday present herself,” like she’s giving her entire being — and her body — to Ken? It’s just not the ideal message to send 6-year-olds.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
The Blonds Blond Diamond Barbie
Even though that cross-dressed Ken doll was just a store clerk’s prank, Mattel did show that it had progressed as to who could outfit Barbie when the company asked gender-bending design team The Blonds to create an outfit for the iconic doll in 2012.

“One of the great things about Barbie is that she continues to push the envelope. Barbie doesn’t care what other people think,” Cathy Cline, vice president of marketing in the U.S. for Mattel’s girls' brands, told The New York Times.

The Blonds Blond Diamond Barbie, which costs $125 and wears “a stunning silvery mini corset dress...and a full-length faux fox fur,” is the closest thing we have thus far to a gender-bending Barbie. “[T]he doll may be loosely based on Phillipe [Blond], and this character he plays within our little Blond world,” David Blond told The Times, which noted, “Given that he is often found in nosebleed-high Louboutin’s, blond locks, and a get-up that could out-sparkle Liza Minnelli, it’s easy to see where Phillipe’s appreciation [for Barbie] may lie." Still, the doll was merely inspired by Phillipe; it's not a complete replica of the designer.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Mexico Barbie Doll
In 2013, Mattel introduced Mexico Barbie Doll as part of its Dolls of the World collection. The doll was met with immediate controversy. Jason Ruiz, a professor of American Studies at Notre Dame, told Good Morning America, “It sounds to me like Mattel took some shortcuts. The bright pink ribbons? A Chihuahua? That kind of stuff is so easy to use.”

On her site Mi blog es tu blog, Laura Martinez took umbrage with the doll’s passport, suggesting that it implied proof that Mexican Barbie is documented. “According to Mattel, this beauty features accessories that ‘add play value,’ including a passport and sticker sheet. It is not for me to inform you about the 'play value' that a passport provides, so go ahead! Play with your Barbie Mexicana and don’t even think of calling her indocumentada,” Martinez wrote.

Mattel released a statement about the controversy to The Huffington Post. “Each doll wears an ensemble inspired by the traditional costume and fashion of the country... We consulted with the Mexican Embassy on the Dolls of the World Mexico Barbie, especially with respect to the selection of the Chihuahua. Our goal with the Dolls of the World Mexico Barbie, as well as the entire Dolls of the World Collection, is to celebrate cultural differences and tradition, introducing girls to the world through play.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
The Case Of The Swearing Barbie
In September 2014, Mattel was forced to launch an investigation into a talking Barbie doll that sounded like it was screaming “what the fuck?” in a very melodic way. Talina Evans, a mother from North Wales, told the Daily Mail that her daughter’s Talkin’ Barbie, which was based on the web reality series Barbie’s Life in the Dreamhouse, sounded like she was saying “what the fuck?” when she was supposed to be saying “off the hook!” Evans took the doll away from her daughter and tried to return it to the store from which she had purchased it.

In a statement to the BBC, Mattel stood behind Talkin’ Barbie and her phrasing. “One of the 15 pre-recorded phrases is 'Off the Hook.' [T]his is a common expression used by the characters in the animated reality web series. While the phrase may be heard differently by some who are not familiar with the show, all of Mattel's products are created for both children and parents to enjoy and trust,” a spokesman for the company said.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Shamrock Celebration Barbie Doll
I just want to remind everyone that St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner (March 17), and this collector’s edition Barbie, which came out in January 2015, might provide some outfit inspiration.
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