How Mattel Used Barbie To Try To Silence Me

Once I was a yr out of faculty, in 1998, the e-book “Adiós, Barbie” was revealed, and it contained an essay I wrote. The e-book is an anthology of younger ladies’s views on physique picture and id. My essay is titled “At Home in My Body: An Asian-American Athlete Searches for Self.” I wrote about rising up biracial — Filipina and white — and having strangers attempt to outline me by strolling up and asking, “What are you?” I additionally talked about how I began to outline myself as an athlete in school. My sport was rowing.

Once I was little, I had by no means seen an Asian model of Barbie. Barbies didn’t appear like me. And neither did most NCAA rowers — the game was overwhelmingly white. However my teammates and I bonded over step by step realizing that what our more and more sturdy our bodies might do was extra necessary than what we regarded like, and I felt accepted by the group in a method I by no means had earlier than. I grew extra assured, proudly owning my id as an Asian American athlete.

Different “Adiós, Barbie” authors wrote about being Black, brown, fats and in any other case outdoors of the Barbie mildew — having a Jewish nostril, a giant butt, textured hair. The e-book was revealed by Seal Press, a small feminist writer (now an imprint of Hachette).

The e-book launch was thrilling. I used to be working at my first “real job” as a duplicate editor in northern Virginia. My co-workers seen when it was written up in The Washington Submit and introduced in copies of the paper. The e-book was utilized in ladies’s research lessons everywhere in the nation. I used to be thrilled that I had contributed to an anthology that was serving to different younger ladies take into consideration physique picture, race and different components that add as much as who we’re and the way we see ourselves.

Nevertheless, a yr after the e-book was revealed, Mattel sued Seal Press, arguing that it infringed on its trademark by together with Barbie within the e-book’s title, together with the doll foot, hair brush, shoe and necklace on the duvet picture. Seal Press, with out the assets wanted to succeed in opposition to company big Mattel in courtroom, settled the case. It agreed to pay Mattel $10,000 and to cease promoting the present model of the e-book after 4,000 copies, and to cease utilizing any “elements of the BARBIE Trade Dress” or imitations of it.

Barbie’s commerce costume included “the distinctive pink color used by Mattel for the BARBIE trademark and/or on BARBIE products, the BARBIE doll’s leg and foot featuring toes on point, the doll’s distinctive high-heeled pump shoes, the doll’s distinctive scallop-shell hairbrush and the doll’s distinctive heart-shaped charm necklace,” the courtroom judgment learn.

On the duvet of “Adiós, Barbie,” the phrase “Adiós” is pink. Mattel stated Seal Press couldn’t use that coloration. Barbie pink is off-limits. However Barbie pink is simply … sizzling pink. A toy firm laying declare to a shade of pink? It’s a foul look.

The settlement allowed Seal Press to maintain publishing the e-book if it eliminated all these parts. The e-book was republished with a brand new title, “Body Outlaws,” and a brand new cowl, however the title “Adiós, Barbie” had been an ideal match. Identical to the little, pink high-heeled pump on the completely curved Barbie foot.

I’m grateful that Mattel didn’t find yourself quashing the e-book solely. But it surely was disappointing to see Mattel go after a small feminist press and squeeze $10,000 out of it. Seal Press had given “Adiós, Barbie” an opportunity and introduced it to readers who, like me, had been at first of our careers and had been beginning to assert and outline ourselves — and our feminism — after rising up with Barbie as the usual.

Ophira Edut, the e-book’s editor, began Hear Us Rising Sisters, the primary nationwide multicultural ladies’s journal, along with her sister and their pal, who was my classmate in a inventive writing course on the College of Michigan. She invited me to affix the journal, and I liked the discussions we had inside the group of girls. I used to be in my factor; it was the primary time my writing was revealed in {a magazine}. A bit later, Edut requested me about contributing to “Adiós, Barbie,” and I used to be all in.

I requested Edut what she considered the film and its model being on the focus in such a giant method once more.

“Barbie has survived as a brand through constant reinvention. The original doll was inspired by a German prostitute, then became the ultimate icon of the patriarchy’s ideal woman (blonde, white, thin, sexy yet pure),” she stated.

Whereas she loves the 2023 Barbie as a feminist icon, she famous, “We went head-to-head with her parent company Mattel on the schoolyard back in the late 1990s, when a group of writers and I dared to challenge the institutionalized ‘isms’ that Barbie so perfectly represented.”

I’m not vehemently anti-Barbie. I had a handful of Barbies once I was little, though I bear in mind my mother encouraging me to play with different dolls too — ones that represented extra of our various world and extra sensible human proportions. I’ve two daughters, and after they had been youthful and wished to play with Barbies, I allow them to, however I by no means purchased any. The Barbies and their equipment had been at all times hand-me-downs from household and buddies.

I didn’t discourage my daughters from taking part in with them, as a result of their play revolved extra round designing and making garments for them out of no matter cloth they might get their fingers on, relatively than desirous to be them. To my daughters, Barbie was a model for his or her trend creations, not an idol.

Perhaps the Barbie film is as witty and sensible as all people says it’s, however I’m not about to spice up Mattel’s Barbie earnings — even when the film is a feminist take and is filled with actors I prefer to see on display screen.

When Mattel sued Seal Press, no person truly thought “Adiós, Barbie” was going to harm its product. By the point the company filed the lawsuit, the e-book had been out on the planet for a yr. The choice-makers at Mattel simply knew that they had ample company and authorized muscle, in order that they determined to flex it.

Mattel argued that Seal Press used the trademark and parts of the “trade dress” “with the intent to trade on the enormous goodwill Mattel has earned in its Barbie products and to deceive and confuse the public into believing that ‘Adiós, Barbie’ is or was directly sponsored by, approved by, or otherwise associated with Mattel and its official licensees,” the criticism stated, in response to a 1999 problem of Feminist Bookstore Information.

The accusation that we had been making an attempt to deceive or confuse the general public doesn’t appear to be “enormous goodwill” to me. Somebody who walked right into a bookstore and noticed “Adiós, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity” on the duvet of the e-book would assume it was sponsored by Mattel? I don’t assume so.

The message to all of us younger ladies contributors was, basically, that we couldn’t say what we wished to say about ourselves and our feminism. And our e-book cowl couldn’t have sizzling pink on it.

I don’t wish to rain on anybody’s new feminist Barbie parade. And I don’t want Barbie unwell. I applaud no matter journey towards actuality and self-discovery she’s on. However I’m not about to face in line to deliver her a present.

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