Since 2003, Barbie has been outsold in the Middle East by Fulla, a Barbie-like doll designed to appeal to Muslim girls:
... Fulla, created by a toy company based in the United Arab Emirates, wears an abaya — a long, black robe — that covers her body from head to toe. Her eyes are mocha, her skin caramel, her hair jet black.
The doll, which has been outselling Barbie in the Middle East since its launch in 2003, is the latest example of a new crop of dolls reflecting different races, values, religions and cultures. Fulla will appear at the 2007 Toy Fair in New York City in February. Other doll companies, such as American Girl and Dolls Like Me, also have introduced ethnic dolls, including African-American, Hispanic, American Indian and Asian options.
Named after a fragrant flower, the Fulla line includes a variety of dolls dressed in clothes that reflect different countries in the Middle East and Asia. But Fulla goes beyond the external fashion and beauty focus. She is a doctor and teacher who respects her parents and likes to read and play sports.
"The message that Fulla brings ... is promoting good virtues for little girls," said Basel Kanawati, chief technology officer for NewBoy, the company that created Fulla.
It's easy to see why American-style Barbie might be troublesome for parents in that part of the world, and NewBoy is taking advantage of cultural differences to offer a product that's more appropriate for other cultures. (Though I think some American parents might prefer a doll who's a doctor and teacher, and likes to read, over Malibu Barbie and her impossible bust.)
Though, as the report notes, the implications of dolls seem to be more important to parents than kids:
Christine Williams, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, says that while adults fret over the potential hazards of their children playing with dolls that don't resemble them, kids generally just see dolls as toys.
"I think parents project an awful lot of power onto these objects, that may or may not have any true impact on what the child will do. The question of what children do with Barbies or their toys has always been up in the air."
For a somewhat lighter take on Barbie, meanwhile, consider this lineup of Houston-area Barbies that's been making the rounds via email and blogs. If you're not from Houston, I'm sure you can plug in local place names to make it make sense...