Here’s what the page says about this lovely “Doll of the World”:
Oriental BarbieÂ® doll is dainty and elegant in this beautiful costume reflecting the influence of the Orient. Her long, slender yellow dress is trimmed in red, and complemented by a red and golden-flowered jacket. Her lustrous black hair falls gently over her shoulders, and is pulled back to display her lovely face.
Compared to what’s said about some of the other barbies — Thai Barbie is “[a]s beautiful and exotic as the land she represents,” and “Chinese BarbieÂ® exudes the simplistic grace of the Chinese culture.” — that blurb isn’t so bad. The only Asian stereotype that seems to be played up is the “dainty” part. Although it does seem that the American clothing tends to be called an “ensemble” while the non-American clothing tends to get labelled a “costume” (the Asian barbies seem to have their outfits almost exclusively labelled “costumes”).
Let me tell you what other barbies are in this list: India Barbie, Japanese Barbie, Korean Barbie, Malaysian Barbie, Chinese Barbie, Japanese Barbie 2nd Edition, India Barbie 2nd Edition, and Thai Barbie. Aside from there being an India rather than an Indian barbie (done to avoid confusion with the Native American barbies in another part of the collection?), what strikes y’all here? If you said that all of the other barbies come from an actual country and the Oriental Barbie is a blatant representation of the racist stereotypes that the West has lumped onto those they term “orientals” then you win!
I would argue that the term “oriental” is problematic no matter where in the world it is being used, but in America especially, is considered offensive and derogatory when being used on people. Though the doll is technically an inanimate object, she is being used to represent a human being so the usage, therefore, becomes derogatory.
More than that, the “Dolls of the World” series are being used to represent cultures. As I mentioned above, there is no “oriental” culture outside of what Western imperialists in the past lumped together under the heading of “east of us” — what the word really stands for is “exotic” and “Other”, with a focus on Asia and Asia Minor.
Now, it’s important to note that this barbie was not produced during some dark age in American history. It was the beginning of what the Barbie Collector Showcase website labels as the “Dolls of the World: Asia” line, with the date 1981 under it. The collection, by the way, ends with Malaysian Barbie in 1998.