Amazonia Barbie®

We have discussed before — here and here and here — the strange ways that the jungle, and in particular the Amazon, has penetrated Western consciousness. Now I have found a new phenomenon to add to the list of odd hybrid cultural artifacts — Amazonia Barbie.

The official Mattel product description reads: “The Amazon is a natural source of beauty, bounty, and the mighty Amazon River. The Amazonia Barbie® doll celebrates this extraordinary paradise, dressed in a costume inspired by the native people. From the feathers atop her long dark hair to her tribal tattoos, this striking doll will captivate your heart.”

She joins Brazilian, Chliean, and two Peruvian Barbies in the Dolls of the World® South America collection.

Amazonia Barbie’s belt, loin cloth, and “tribal tattoos”

Amazonia Barbie is, as they say, muy gringa — tall, thin, pale-skinned, and with a narrow nose, although she does have long straight black hair. Unlike many traditional Amazonian women, Amazonia Barbie wears a sort of tube top over her breasts, a complex heavy belt, and a loin cloth. She has on her arms and legs what the description calls tribal tattoos, but which are apparently modeled after body decorations drawn on the skin with the juice of the immature fruit of the huito, Genipa americana, which oxidizes to a very dark blue color. This body art is often on the face — you can see some photographs here — but I suspect that a Barbie doll with geometric designs on her face would have been unacceptable to the manufacturer.

I am not sure that I can draw any deep cultural lessons from this. Of course Amazonia Barbie does not look anything like a real Amazonian woman. It is not at all clear that she is intended to. The mold is the same as all the other Barbie dolls, perhaps with some variation in skin color, and her eyes appear to have been given a slightly Asian cast. If she is not an authentic representative of Amazonian culture, it is because she is not in fact intended to be a representation of any culture at all. Her ethnicity is a stereotype built up out of fragments of an imagined culture. She is an American doll playing dress-up.

Linda Kyaw (left) and Amazonia Barbie

The designer of Amazonia Barbara is Linda Kyaw, who is employed by Mattel Inc. to design Barbie Dolls, and then to promote them by appearing at Barbie Doll conventions. She also designed other members of the Dolls of the World Collection, including Scotland Barbie and France Barbie, as well as my personal favorite — a Barbie doll costumed as the goddess Aphrodite.

Apparently different Barbie doll designers develop individual styles that are instantly recognizable to connoisseurs. One collector complains Amazonia Barbie’s face is too typical of dolls designed by Kyaw, “with the same color shades and gold tones on their faces.” Another has complained that Amazonia Barbie is too pricey for an almost naked doll. It took me a moment to figure that one out.

Amazonia Barbie is available, among other places, at Toys”R”Us for $29.95.

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7 Responses to “Amazonia Barbie”

  1. Diane says:

    Wow, Barbie looks like a Shaman to me. Imagine that! I’m speechless! I wish my daughters were still little, I’d go out and buy them the Amazon Shaman Barbie for sure!

  2. I wish the doll was more shipibo like and a true representation of a tribal jungle woman, in her full glory and natural beauty
    I think on the whole its an insult to women to make these dolls so virtual and unrealistic and what does that do the minds of impressionable young girls who will end up thinking pneumatic boobs and a miniscule waist is normal. Then plastic surgery comes in as it has already hit teenagers alarmingly so that at such a yound age they are influenced by unrealistic role models, and dolls like this do not help at all.

  3. Also i am a natural born shaman and i look nothing like that doll. Theres no sterotype as to what a shaman looks like its a way of life and energy!! And a gift from the Cosmos, its also about working for the greater good of people and the universe and i dont think these dolls will do that. Do they donate anything to the Amazonian people?

  4. Ellie says:

    I had no idea that this barbie existed. Throughout reading this post, the idea of this Amazonia Barbie seemed more and more absurd. After reading this I looked into it and apparently Mattel has made other South American Barbies including two Peruvian Barbies, none of which seem any more accurate than this one and are also muy gringa. This seems odd to me as Mattel has made a wide range of different black skin tones for different African and African-American Barbies, but all the Hispanic and Latin American Barbies are fairly light skinned. Whether purposefully or not, it seems Mattel is perpetuating the misguided idea that in many Hispanic cultures, whiter is prettier, which is especially backwards because the majority of the people of most Latin countries are of both native and European descent. Spread the word, mestizas are pretty too!

  5. Patricia says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Patricia

  6. Hi Steve

    saw your post on facebook mentioning this, and my first thought was that it had to be a joke……but it’s true. I’ve obviously this ‘striking doll has captivated my heart’, and have to get one, and all my friend too.

    WE LOVE YOU BARBIE

    Howard

    ps. I’ve shown to a friend visiting me here in Lima, who has just returned from a 6 month diet in the jungle, and she is so totally captivated by this, that she wants one, and all she has done for the past ten minutes is fantasise about owning one in time for her next diet in the Amazon.

    pps. Thanks for bringing this important matter to our attention – keep up the good work!

  7. Bruce says:

    Also i am a natural born shaman and i look nothing like that doll. Theres no sterotype as to what a shaman looks like its a way of life and energy!! And a gift from the Cosmos, its also about working for the greater good of people and the universe and i dont think these dolls will do that. Do they donate anything to the Amazonian people?


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