Mattel's sold-out 'Day of the Dead' Barbie called 'cultural appropriation at its worst'

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Mattel's 'Day of the Dead' Barbie has been accused of cultural appropriation. [Photo: Mattel]

Mattel has released its latest Barbie: a ‘Day of the Dead’ doll complete with a flowery dress and a skull pattern painted on her face.

Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated in Mexico and by people of Mexican heritage worldwide. During the day, people says prayers and remember friends and family who have died, and many choose to wear costumes which can include skulls, associated with death, and flowers, a popular motif in traditional Mexican dress.

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The Dia de Muertos Barbie (the phrase is Spanish for ‘day of the dead’) was released yesterday and made available for $75 (£60) on the US Mattel website.

However, the product is currently sold out due to high demand.

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While the doll was clearly popular, some people are calling cultural appropriation.

The sold-out Day of the Dead Barbie. [Photo: Mattel]

Cultural appropriation is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”

Twitter users called the doll “a bad joke” and “cultural appropriation at its worst”, criticising Mattel for profiting from the Mexican festival.

Not everyone has a problem with the doll, however.

Some Twitter users have instead understood the concept as a celebration rather than an appropriation.

A similar debate surrounding Rihanna’s Harper’s Bazaar China cover in July this year.

The singer and entrepreneur was photographed for the publication’s August 2019 edition by Chinese photographer Chen Man wearing traditional Chinese dress, makeup and a hairstyle complete with mini fans.

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But fans claimed the fact that Rihanna posed on a Chinese publication styled by people of its culture means she did not, in fact, appropriate the culture – but instead the cover was an example of “cultural appreciation”.

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