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Asian Fashion Dolls: Second Selves Sometimes Missing From Toy Shelves
I was at the Walmart in Renton (south of Seattle) recently, and browsed the toy aisles. At first glance, those rows of Barbies looked like the real girls in the real neighborhoods of Renton: dark tones, light tones, medium tones. Their facial features were not all identical, not by a long shot. But when I looked closer, something was missing. These dolls was not representative of Renton or Seattle, or the U.S. Was Raquelle intended as an Asian Barbie? In a world of dolly realism, she didn't quite look the part.
I thought Barbie had gotten more representative. Maybe that's because I spend more time online than in real stores. I see the things that are there if you search, not the things that are dangled in front of a six-year-old's eyes.
Back home, I went online. I made a list of the URLs of dolls I knew existed. Then I got another surprise, a more pleasant one. I found myself looking not at Mattel representations of Asia, but of actual Asian fashion dolls. And they weren't the rosy cheeked, blonde-tressed Japanese imports I had seen before. Many had black hair and features suggestive of Asia. Some had brown eyes.
Here they are: Barbies of Asia and Asian fashion doll imports, second selves for one portion of the population.
Who's That Doll?
Her identity will be revealed momentarily.
She was photographed by tablesalt, Flickr Creative Commons
Presidential Candidate Barbie
In 2012, not one, but four Barbies ran for President. They represented four different ethnicities. The Asian 'I Can Be President' is still widely available, though not necessarily on the shelves of Walmart or Target. This is one of the most economical Asian Barbies that can be bought for a little girl.
This doll has some things going for her besides just her 'I Can' attitude. I don't think she is quite as thin as the dolls in the 'Basics' collection.
She will need some spare clothes, as running for President isn't part of most little girl's daily play.
Information from Barbie Collector
There has traditionally been more ethnic diversity in the lines marketed to collectors. Mattel releases collector Barbies for a relatively short period, then it's on to the new. But many are still available if you search.
The following, from the Barbie Collector site, is a showcase of Dolls of the World that represent Asian countries; it includes photos and official information about some of the dolls that are no longer available through Mattel.
It should be noted that not all Asian Barbies are part of this collection. To see other selections, browse the site by key word.
- Barbie Collector
Information about Barbies of the World thast represent Asian nations.
Expressions of India
This is not from the Barbies of the World line. This is a line of dolls which was created for girls in India. Some are available online.
- Barbies Representing Different Regions of India
The Expressions of India line was introduced after the Barbie in India line and represented an attempt, at least, to go deeper into the culture. Here you can see pictures of dolls representing different regions.
Modern Barbie Options
Here is Lea, from the 2005 Fashion Fever collection.She's an absolutely beautiful doll, though unfortunately the price has gone up as the supply has diminished.
People sometimes turn to the Barbie Basics line for more economical collector's dolls -- and for ethnic diversity. The dolls are not identified by race or nationality but people do speculate! Barbie Basics #05 is sometimes purchased for young girls of Asian heritage. The doll has appeared in several collections. The doll in Collection 3 is still available at a good price from Mattel. While I am not a fan of the bathing suit/ heels combination, I really like the face on this one. The one that appeared in the first collection was more heavily made up. Unfortunately, I think the dolls in this line are all skinny/leggy.
I am aware there is at least one doll in the Barbies of the World line that can't be changed out of her clothing. In some other cases, the hairstyle might make it impractical. In most cases, though, if the doll with the right face doesn't come with the right outfit(s), it's relatively easy to fix. I chose to feature kimonos and hanbocks here; thankfully, it's also getting easier (once again) to find Barbie clothes that represent the outfits we find in our modern cites.
Critiques and Other Perspectives
- Philly Collector
Here is a long list of companies that have made action figures or fashion dolls with Asian features at some point during the past couple decades or so... for those who have the time and inclination to browse around online and see what they can find.
- Aerial View
A woman of Asian ancestry remembers how, when she was little, she had no Barbies that looked like her. She is drawn to Barbies that have representative features, but questions the practice of portraying people of some ethnic groups in clothing of lon
- Mail Online
A critique of the 2012 line.
Kurhn Pure Memory Doll
It took me some time to identify these as Kurhn dolls. The company listed here on Amazon is apparently a distributor; it is not the name usually associated with the dolls. I was surprised the dolls were Chinese as there's a hint of Anime.
The dolls are a little shorter than Barbie, with straighter figures. Many, but by no means all, have Asian features.
The Pure Memory doll has brown eyes and clothing that blends modern and traditional. Her spare dress looks like a modern take on the cheongsam.
This doll comes travels straight from Hong Kong. Shipping costs are reasonable, but she takes a long time in transit: 17- 28 days. (It's a good thing she has luggage and spare clothing!)
This is a boxed set with an extra outfit, handbag, suitcase, and print materials in Chinese.
A Close Look at a Kurhn Doll
Meet a Kurhn doll! The same collector has shown off the doll in video and text form.
- Kurhn Doll Review
Here is a review of a Kurhn doll and her living room play set. There are lots of photographs included. The conclusion is that she is a quality fashion doll, though there are minor issues with things like clothes catching.
- Kurhn Doll Basics
From the China Toy and Juvenile Products Associaton.
Momoko Doll in Action
Image: yasmapaz & ace_heart, Flickr Creative Commons. Shared under attribution, share alike license.
Momoko dolls have an exquisite realism in their faces as well as their postures. I hear they are intended to capture the feel of modern Tokyo, but I see Seattle as well.
The dolls are ball-jointed; this makes them very poseable, but on the delicate side. They aren't a doll for young children.
The downside to these Japanese fashion dolls, from a parent's perspective, is probably the price. This doll is more expensive than American Girl. Most are over $100. Extras (handmade clothing, limited editions) place some dolls in higher ranges.
This is one of the more affordable Momoko dolls. She has brown hair and eyes and a practical haircut.
How Do Barbie and Momoko Compare in Size?
Here's a Flickr photo that shows the two posing in matching dresses. Barbie is a tad taller.
- Fashion Doll Comparison
Two blonde fashion dolls from different parts of the world posing together in matching floral dresses.
Representing Mixed Ancestry
Mixis dolls are designed to represent young women of mixed ancestry. Look for Emerald -- she has Asian ancestry. Her 'bio' says she has roots in three cultures: Native American, African American, and Japanese.
Momoko as Mixed Ethnicity Dolls?
I think that Momoko dolls also do a good job of representing mixed ancestry. Even when hair or eyes are lighter than expected, I can get a sense that I am looking at an Asian doll -- or, at least, that I am not looking at a doll whose 'ancestors' all came from Europe.
As enchanting as these dolls are, though, I question how much they, taken as a lot, represent modern Tokyo.
Yue-Sai Wa Wa
Here is one that I have been aware of for some time. Yue-Sai Wa-Wa was created by a woman of Chinese ancestry who was shocked to find shelves of blonde haired, blue eyed dolls in China.
The dolls in the collection wear a variety of outfits: some modern, some long ago. Some promote a glamour reminiscent of Barbie. There are a few career dolls -- again, not unlike Barbie.
Dr. Yue-Sai blends Eastern and Western medicine. This is another doll in the under $20 price range.
Yue-Sai Wa Wa dolls may not be in many U.S. stores but are available new and used online. I was surprised to see that some wore traditional clothing representing not only China, but some other Asian nations. For example, there is a "Thai Dancer" doll.
One of the modern representations is "Panda Protector". No long glamorous gowns on this one! She wears pants that convert to shorts so she'll be comfortable in the Sichuan terrain.
Interview With Yue-Sai
Asia for Kids has an interview with Yue-Sai. You'll also find more of the dolls on their site.
- Asia for Kids
Learn more about the Yue-Sai line.