Barbie Dolls in Latin America

Due to its enduring popularity, the Barbie doll has always been more than just a toy.  Over the years, it has achieved the status of being an American cultural icon and is the subject of heated debate.   Feminists and children's advocates point out that her defining characteristics --- blonde hair, blue eyes, full-bosomed, small hips --- promote an unhealthy (and perhaps unattainable) ideal for impressionable children.

The Barbie doll is not just an American phenomenon, but is exported all over the world by Mattel.  In some countries, the blonde blue-eyed Barbie characteristics may be rare among the populace.  (Still, in a country like Brazil, the national icon is the blonde blue-eyed Xuxa, whose characteristics are relatively rare.)  Nevertheless, the company has found it necessary to introduce localized versions of Barbie in the Dolls of the World series that began in 1980.  For example, in Latin American, there are Brazilian, Chilean, Chilean, Incan, Mexican, Mexican, MexicanPeruvian, Peruvian, Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Puerto Rican and Puerto Rican Barbies.  There are also brand extensions to include Brazilian books, etc.

The national versions of Barbie obviously reflect the characteristics of the local population.  The Puerto Rican Barbie has a mulatto complexion, almond eyes, thick nose, plump lips, long wavy brown hair, and is adorned in a Spanish colonial tiered dress.   As might be expected, when the doll was first released, it was criticized for all sorts of reasons, such as:

How popular is Barbie in Latin America?  In the Pan-Latin American Kids Study 1997, we found that 24% of all Latin American girls said that they own a Barbie doll.  In the table below, we show how the penetration differs by country.  The penetration is highest in Puerto Rico, followed by Argentina and Chile. 

Table. % of Latin American Girls Age 7-11 Who Own Barbie Dolls by Geographic Region

Demographic Category

% who owns Barbie doll
Argentina 44%
Brazil 25%
Chile 49%
Colombia 21%
Mexico 20%
Puerto Rico 72%
Venezuela 14%
Balance of Central America/Caribbean 17%
Balance of South America 20%

(Source: Pan-Latin American Kids Study 1997)

Since Barbie dolls are relatively expensive (typically more than US$20 each), the penetration is different significantly by socio-economic status, as shown in the table below.

Table. % of Latin American Girls Age 7-11 Who Own Barbie Dolls by SES

Demographic Category

% who owns Barbie doll
Socio-economic Level A 46%
Socio-economic Level B 48%
Socio-Economic Level C 29%
Socio-Economic Level D   9%

(Source: Pan-Latin American Kids Study 1997)


(posted by Roland Soong 6/19/98)

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