Barbie Goes Black Market in Iran

The latest casualty of worsening Iran-US relations is Barbie. The Iranian government is apparently cracking down on the sale of the popular perma-heeled doll, forcing some dealers underground.

Reuters reports that Barbie has actually been banned since 1996 for her "destructive cultural and social consequences." But toy stores have historically ignored the ban. Now, in the wake of tightening US sanctions against Iran, police are visiting toy sellers to demand the removal of Barbie. Instead, stores are supposed to sell Sara, a doll who wears modest Islamic dress (she also has a Ken equivalent, named Dara). However, like kids everywhere, kids in Iran hate the toys grownups tell them to like — says one mom, "My daughter prefers Barbies. She says Sara and Dara are ugly and fat." Crafty toy merchants are reportedly responding to this demand by covertly stocking Barbies — one manager puts Sara in the window and secretly sells Barbie inside the store.

To be fair to Iran, Barbie has to be one of America's grossest exports. She's not as dangerous as, say, machine guns, but she's (inadvertently?) helped teach American girls that anyone who doesn't look like her is "ugly and fat," and now she's apparently teaching Iranian girls the same thing. Plus, her little shoes get lost everywhere and her feet look totally weird without them. That said, a ban on Barbie is unlikely to go over super-well in Iran. Kids all over the world seem to love the unrealistically-boobed monstrosity — my memory of the fall of the Berlin Wall will be forever stamped with a photograph I saw then of an East German girl clutching her first Barbie, bought in West Berlin. I loved Barbie too then (I was six), even though I didn't really know what to do with her. My Little Ponies and fairy dolls were better for pretend play, but somehow Barbie was important, even crucial, despite the fact that all I ever really did with her was make her fight with her friends like the bitch she was.

If I had to guess, I'd say Barbie is one of little girls' first status symbols, a way of showing that you know what cool is, at the age when being cool is still the same as being mainstream. Later on kids might try to be different, but in the early years they want what everyone else has, and in the doll realm, that's Barbie. The Iranian government can fight that — and while I'm not a fan of their treatment of other women, I sympathize with their hatred of Barbie. But they'll be like those parents who try to make their kids play with organic wooden toys — eventually, their high ideals will be trampled by a stampede of plastic heels.

Iran cracks down on moral peril of Barbie peddlers [Reuters]