Toys as a form of material culture are regarded as one source of cultural data. They are said to encode the cultural values of their creators. In the case of Barbie, there is the reproach that ethnicity is defined by other than white, that blonde Barbie sets the standard from which "the other" comes. While "ethnic Barbies" are qualified by their language, foods, native clothes etc.,"Standard Barbie" can do without these ethnic symbols (Schwarz, 2005). Mexico Barbie, for instance, wears traditional clothes, carries a Chihuahua and a passport; her creation caused some controversy.
By developing dolls that allowed identification by "ethnic others", Mattel intended to capture the growing ethnic markets (Goldman, 2011). However, there is more to it than just increasing sales. Dolls invite children to imagine themselves in the doll's image (Schwarz, 2005) ... and one "standard image" is simply not enough.
For more subversive photographs of Barbie see Mariel Clayton
Goldman, K. (2011) La Princesa Plastica. Hegemonic and Oppositional Representations of Latinidad in Hispanic Barbie. In Dines, G. & Humez, J. M. (eds.) Gender, Race and Class in Media. A Critical Reader. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 375-382
Schwarz, M. T. (2005) Native American Barbie: The Marketing of Euro-American Desires. American Studies, 46(3/4), 295-326; photos via and via