Plastic Representation in Barbie’s Vlogs

Curator's Note

In the early 2010s, Barbie’s parent company Mattel responded to a decline in sales as children turned toward smart technologies by re-branding their Barbie franchise.[1] In addition to including more diverse dolls, in 2015 they launched a Barbie YouTube channel where a digitally animated Barbie posts vlogs about her daily life.

Vlogging Barbie is a digital twin of the original doll: white, blonde, and petite. In a 2021 vlog that ties in with the movie Barbie: Big City, Big Dreams (2021), however, Mattel introduced a new character into the Barbie vlog universe. In this vlog, the original Barbie Roberts attends a music summer school in Manhattan. When she finds her dorm room, she realizes that another character has been assigned the same room. This character is Black and is surprisingly also named Barbie Roberts. To avoid confusion, the two Barbies decide to use their respective hometowns as nicknames and become Malibu (white Barbie) and Brooklyn (Black Barbie).

At summer school, the two Barbies discover that they have a lot in common. The similarities between these digital Barbies reflect those of the physical dolls. Historically, Black Barbie dolls have been manufactured from the same molds as the white dolls. These dolls were often marketed with the important caveat that the original, white Barbie’s clothes and accessories would fit them.[2] These racially inclusive dolls, then, were still organized around logics and aesthetics that re-affirmed Barbie’s whiteness.

In this vlog, we can see how these logics have transferred to digital environments. These digital Barbies are also molded around whiteness as Brooklyn Barbie fits neatly into the narrative contours already outlined for Malibu Barbie. Like Malibu Barbie, Brooklyn Barbie loves music, pizza, and pink: a personality profile that was established for Malibu Barbie in the first six years of the vlog series (and, indeed, since Barbie’s launch in 1959.)

Kristen J. Warner refers to the phenomenon of superficially representing Blackness as ‘plastic representation,’ where “any representation that includes a person of color is automatically a sign of success and progress.”[3] Brooklyn Barbie and her physical predecessors are (quite literally in the case of the toys) examples of ‘plastic representation’: hollow signs of racial diversity and progress that over-simplify Blackness without meaningfully accounting for the specificities, nuances, and depths of the Black experience.

Although Mattel now offers a range of racially, physically, and ability-inclusive Barbie dolls, much like the Barbies represented in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie: The Movie (2023), Barbie media still privileges Barbie’s whiteness. In Gerwig’s film, Margot Robbie stars as ‘stereotypical Barbie’ re-affirming Barbie’s true whiteness and the other Barbies’ difference from this default whiteness. In her analysis of Black Barbie dolls, Ann Du Cille suggests that “…Mattel has made blackness simultaneously visible and invisible, at once different and the same.”[4] She adds, “Difference is always relational and value-laden. We are not just different; we are different from.”[5] In Barbie media, Brooklyn Barbie and the supporting Barbies of Gerwig’s film are different from the Barbies that hold top billing as the stars of the film and the vlogs yet occupy the same name and category. These Barbies reveal how the particularities of racial difference in media representation can be paradoxically visible and erased, ultimately assimilated into sameness.

This film and these vlogs point toward a need to think past ‘plastic representation,’ to break Barbie’s mold, and to re-imagine what it means to be ‘a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world’ outside of the bounds of whiteness.



duCille, Ann. Skin Trade. Cambridge, MA/London, UK: Harvard University Press, 1996.

–––––– “Dyes and Dolls: Multicultural Barbie and the Merchandising of Difference.” Differences Vol. 6, no. 1 (1994): 46–68.

Halliday, Aria S. Buy Black: How Black Women Transformed US Pop Culture. Urbana, Chicago, Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2022.

Rand, Erica. Barbie’s Queer Accessories. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995.

Spigel, Lynn. Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001.

Warner, Kristen J. “In the Time of Plastic Representation.” Film Quarterly Vol. 71, no. 2 (2017): 32–37.

Williams, Cheryl. “The ROI of Play: Girls’ Immaterial Labour, Smart Toys, and the Digital Economy.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth Vol. 12, No. 3 (2019): 471-489.


[1] See Cheryl Williams, “The ROI of Play: Girls’ Immaterial Labour, Smart Toys, and the Digital Economy,” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth Vol. 12, No. 3 (2019): 471-489,

[2] Aria S. Halliday, Buy Black: How Black Women Transformed US Pop Culture (Urbana, Chicago, Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2022), 62.

[3] Kristen J. Warner, “In the Time of Plastic Representation,” Film Quarterly Vol. 71, no. 2 (2017): 33,

[4] Ann duCille, Skin Trade (Cambridge, MA/London, UK: Harvard University Press, 1996), 56.

[5] Ibid., 57.

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