Asian American women had a banner year at the Tokyo Olympics. With Chinese American gymnast Suni Lee becoming the first Asian American to win gold in the gymnastics individual all-around and Filipina American fencer Lee Kiefer becoming the first Asian American woman to win a fencing gold, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that when Mattel released its line of Olympics-themed Barbie dolls, people couldn’t help but notice that Asian heritage didn’t seem to be represented.
The company has now apologized, saying it “fell short” on Asian representation in what was supposed to be an inclusive release. The Olympics line features five new dolls, each outfitted in gear associated with a sport that was new to the Olympics this year: karate, skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, and softball. According to Mattel, the skateboarding doll was intended to represent the Asian American community, but that didn’t register with most people.
“Moving forward, we will work to find more ways to champion all representation and celebrate the amazing achievements of all Olympic athletes, who are showing us that anything is possible,” a spokesperson for the El Segundo-based company said in a statement.
Many of the line’s critics took to Twitter with their harsh feedback, pointing out the various ways the omission felt ill timed. “It’s so fun to see white Barbie in a karate uniform,” one user, @theonekatkim, said. “Take our culture, nod to Tokyo hosting the Olympics but say hell no to an Asian Barbie huh @Mattel.”
Responding to people who might say, “But it’s just a doll,” user @iamjennysung said, “Representation matters. On my ordination day I was given Asian Pastor Jenny Barbie and I cried … in a world where we are so often told ‘Not you.’ A Barbie really does make a difference.”
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