MEXICO | There is the Barbie princess, the sporty Barbie or the fashionista Barbie … In Mexico, the “skeleton” version of the famous doll is now making its mark on the local market on the occasion of the next Day of the Dead.
Failing to make little Western girls dream, this second edition of a barbie white as the bones and wearing a pink dress makes cringe the teeth of those who see in her an attempt to “monetize” the most important of Mexican traditions.
This toy “commemorates Mexico, its feast, its symbols and its people,” which are marked each year on November 1 and 2, says manufacturer Mattel.
The Barbie “Catrina”, in reference to this popular character of Mexican culture, is sold for 72 dollars in stores. It is adorned this year with a pink lace trousseau and typically Mexican ornamentation, unlike the first edition in 2019 which was dressed in a black dress.
Zoila Muntané, 56, is an artist. It has a collection of some 2,000 barbies, including exclusive editions.
Against those who denounce the commercialization of “Dia de los Muertos”, she defends the cadaveric version of Barbie “Catrina”.
“Since last year when it came out (…) I found it very beautiful, this means that the manufacturer takes our traditions into account,” says Zoila.
But for experts in Mexican society, this Barbie “Catrina”, which has the deep features of the famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, is only a new case of “cultural appropriation” for commercial purposes.
This adaptation “is linked to migratory flows which are now much more important”, explains to AFP Librada Moreno, sociologist and academic at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
“From a business point of view,” this doll is “the hybrid product between what exists across the border (in the United States) and what we know on this side,” he adds. -she.
Those who criticize the aspect of “cultural appropriation” also warn against a risk of distortion of traditions and symbols, to which others respond with the necessary freedom of creation.
Librada Moreno says that in the United States, home to some 36 million Mexicans or originally from Mexico, an increasing number of Mexican traditions are celebrated.
The creator of the Cadaverous Barbie, Mexican-American Javier Meabe, explains that he sought to “publicize the celebration of the Day of the Dead” which, according to indigenous legends, marks the return of the dead to the world of the living for to be honored there by offerings in homes and cemeteries.
“It is a very beautiful tradition, as there are few in the world” and designated as an integral part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003, said Carlos Sandoval, also a fan of Barbie dolls.
For the sociologist, this day which “should be a solemn theme” has become a commercial event in the United States since the resounding success of the cartoon “Coco” (2017) by Disney Pixar.
In addition to the doll, this year saw the addition of merchandise such as a Minnie Mouse “Catrina” (inspired by the character created by designer José Guadalupe Posada in 1912) and a collection of Nike sneakers.
The new edition of “Barbie Day of the Dead” is the fourth inspired by Mexican women, after the Catrina of 2019 and those dedicated to the golfer Lorena Ochoa and the painter Frida Kahlo.
The latter cannot be sold in Mexico, as Kahlo’s family considers that the image of the doll does not correspond to the artist.
“Barbie has always been designed with a purely Western perspective,” explains Librada Moreno.
“The Day of the Dead is one of the purest and most ancestral traditions of Mexico (…) Neither Barbie nor any other manifestation of pop culture modifies its pre-Hispanic roots” which are 3000 years old, estimates the sociologist.
Since its launch in 1959, Barbie has sold over a billion copies of its dolls.