Tokyo Olympics: Did Toymaker Mattel Forget It Took Place in Asia?

In their special-edition Barbie dolls, Mattel included a Black plastic lass, but not an Asian

Is it possible that the more inclusive one tries to be, the more likely one would also exclude? US toymaker Mattel recently revealed their latest special-edition Barbie dolls, released to commemorate the just-concluded Olympic Games. They are supposed to be ethnically diverse, but an Asian is clearly not represented among the smiling quintet. There are two blonde Whites, and a brunette, one Black, and one possibly Latino, but not one face that could stand for Asia, which, according to World Population Review, is the most populous continent in the world (and, as any school child knows, the largest), with a current total of 4.7 billion people (China and India represent 1.37 billion and 1.29 billion respectively). How is that not large enough for Mattel to consider crucial for representation?

On 29 July, Mattel shared a tweet to tout its range of sporty Barbie dolls with fashion, smiles, and medals that were supposed to reflect “the fun and friendship to the season”. It seems that an Asian face has no part in the fun and friendship. Twittersphere took note and hit out. Mattel quickly responded with an official statement released to the media. They admitted that they “fell short” in not including an Asian Barbie among the line-up that is supposed to celebrate the Tokyo Games. Despite that admission, the irony that Asian representation is missing to mark an Olympics staged in Asia is not at all lost. Adding to the deep dismay that an American company could fall so short is that one of the stars of Team USA at this year’s Games is Susina Lee, the first Hmong-American to represent the Stars and Stripes, and winning a gold in the gymnastics individual all-round.

To be sure, Mattel has been more woke than other toymakers and has released Asian dolls in the past, including male ones, in particular the wildly successful BTS dolls (which reportedly raised the company’s worldwide sales by 10 percent). But, for an Olympics edition toy that is supposed to reflect the global nature and representation of the Games, the maker of the 61-year-old Barbie appears not to be able to cast its sight beyond its own Whites-are-more shores, even when they outfitted one of the blondes in what appears to be the karate uniform gi. In that fateful Tweet, Mattel added the hashtag #YouCanBeAnything. Except, perhaps, Asian?

Photo: Mattel/Twitter

“If You Want A Pair, You Have To Buy Two”

From the look of the box, you’d never guess, there’s only one shoe inside

By Shu Xie

The cheerful salesperson at the Lego store was very quick to tell me, even before I could complete my question, that there is only one shoe in the box with the flip-up lid, not a pair. Frankly, I didn’t know that. I have never bought a single shoe before, nor do I know that shoes are sold singly! The recognisable blue boxes—stacked on the floor, as you might find in a shoe shop—certainly look like the regular ones: there is room in each for two. As if to placate my disappointment, she added helpfully, “you can choose right or left side”. Choose? They come as right or left? “No, but you can fix it as a right shoe or left.” Such thoughtful option! But when I looked at the built-up sneaker, placed on top of a shoe box in the acrylic showcase, I couldn’t tell if it was the left or the right (there is apparently a separate bag with the right parts for you to get the side you want). Despite the “real shoelaces” that Lego proudly announced, it appeared as it was—unwearable.

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar is the toy maker’s first sneaker that is built with their plastic bricks, and conceived for adults. Adidas and Lego have collaborated before. There were shoes and even clothing (for kids, if I remember correctly), but never has there been the toy footwear. Like most of their special-edition items, Lego’s take on the Superstar is for display only. It is massive for a toy shoe—at least men’s size 15, I thought! But since it’s 27-centimetres in length, they are really a very common US size 9 (UK 8 or Euro 42.5), which would sit nicely on top of a book case. It comes with all the logos and trademarks to make it look “authentic”. And, you can even customise it with whatever bricks you already have so that they do not need to look monochromatic. It also comes with a clear stand so that you can prop up the heel (as seen in the photo above). A small plaque with description is also issued, so that the less informed will not mistake it for a Stan Smith!

At S$149.90, the one-sided Lego Adidas Originals Superstar (with a total of 731 pieces) is actually more expensive than the wearable version. I didn’t think it would be, but it is. At the Foot Locker, the regular Superstar in the same colour combination can be bought for S$139. An enticing bargain? But, soon to be released is a very real iteration of the Lego-fied Superstar—in a synthetic upper, but with no buildable parts. The Adidas Superstar X Lego costs S$200, or S$100 a side. A replica of a replica! And a price to match, but still cheaper than its plastic cousin!

The Lego Adidas Originals Superstar, SGD149.90, is available at Lego stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay/SOTD

Plushie For Posterity

A comic artist made a little toy in the likeness of one MBS woman. This could be the best-seller of a pandemic year, but it seems it isn’t for sale

It’s heartening to know that there are those who do not shine a light on the bad side of people. Although the now-famous “MBS woman” is (still) derided by Netizens for her refusal to wear a mask in public, repeatedly, and has been sent to court for the violation (to which she is asking the charges to be dropped), she is now depicted as a somewhat harmless mini-plushie, with the sweetness of Ang Ku Kueh Girl. The unknown comic artist, who goes by the handle Toast Comics, has made the recalcitrant no-masker—in what appears to be felt (but not Louis Vuitton’s ‘eco felt’)—approachable, likeable and squeezable, something you might like hanging from the corner of your bag. And there’s no mistaking her—she comes with a hang tag that is printed with her famous and quotable retort, “Do you have a badge?”

Toast Comics, despite his anonymity (his gender is known!), is a rather buzzy artist online. He has 6.1k followers on Facebook, which makes him a ‘nano’ influencer. He is known to beef-up ordinary-looking guys to give them near-superhero stature, if not status. He famously buffed up the Kopitiam Uncle mascot, complete with a new singlet that sports a gaping armhole, so large, it opens to the hip, calling the makeover the “sexy version”. He did the same to the Singapore Police Force’s avatar, Inspector Clif, reimagined as a strapping officer with muscles too big for his uniform. Even Workers’ Party’s Jamus Lim isn’t spared: his cartoon-self is a bare-chested, hammer-wielding, cockle-loving stud-politician! In fact, Toast Comics—also “a place where there is no such thing as ‘safe spaces’”—is the more PG-version of the artist’s true talent and obsession: drawing Asian men with the bodies of Greek gods, some with little left to the imagination. As his other alter ego Toastwire, he populates his illustrated world with men of extreme musculature and endowments, all against settings of fantastical colour, rather Gengoroh Tagame meets Tom of Finland meets Pierre et Gilles.

In contrast, MBS-woman-as-toy/caricature is all cuddly-adorable. As one FB follower said, “way too cute” (while others wonder if it’s a voodoo doll!). She is, of course, not anatomically correct, but her Mochi Peach Cat face is similar and her hair is especially spot on. Her recognisable Klein-blue shirt is precise, too, but at MBS that fateful afternoon, she wore knee-length bermudas. Toast Comics has graciously made her more feminine by dressing her in a skirt (admittedly, miniature shorts are harder to make). We’re surprised that he didn’t give her the physique of Joan Liew the bodybuilder!

Photo: Toast Comics/Facebook