Thursday, September 22, 2005

Fulla of Arabia


Katherine Zoepf writes in today's Times about a doll that's increasingly popular among Middle Eastern girls: Fulla, whose creators say she's in line with Muslim values. This Barbie competitor wears either a black abaya or a white head scarf and full-length coat, and comes complete with prayer mat.

She's a big hit in the Middle East, having inspired (at least) a breakfast cereal, a bicycle, pool toys and a trademarked color, "Fulla pink."

This would be a pretty standard case of cultural adaptation—middle class and wealthy Middle Easterners want their daughters to have a doll they identify with, rather than one who is fully mall-enabled, and Syrian entrepreneurs have provided one—except that Barbie has been vanishing from store shelves in the region.

This raises a fistful of questions: Is the lack of Barbie because of formal or informal government intervention? Or is Mattel phasing out its Middle Eastern sales? Is a distaste for goods perceived as American at work? Or are toy distributors simply getting religion and looking for something to sell that's not in a bikini?

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