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Africa in the American ImaginationPopular Culture, Radicalized Identities, and African Visual Culture$
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Carol Magee

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9781617031526

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781617031526.001.0001

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. Fashioning Identities

. Fashioning Identities

Kente, Nostalgia, and the World of Barbie

(p.95) 4. Fashioning Identities
Africa in the American Imagination

Carol Magee

University Press of Mississippi

This chapter focuses on the second of the three case studies on how Africa is imagined through popular culture, namely, Mattel’s world of Barbie. This chapter first looks at Mattel’s Princess of South Africa (2003), who was dressed in the same garments as Martha Nomvula in the Sports Illustrated photograph with Kathy Ireland. Research shows that this Barbie’s costuming is an homage to Ndebele culture, keeping with the Ndebele styles and traditions. In the same way that Sports Illustrated did previously, Mattel chose Ndebele culture as a representation of all South African indigenous cultures, as well as South Africa as a whole. The chapter thus examines the presence of Ndebele culture in the Sports Illustrated and Barbie worlds. Where the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue could be read as both reductive and empowering, the sense of empowerment in Mattel’s world of Barbie is largely diminished. The chapter thus asserts that even though Ndebele culture gains exposure to large audiences, this exposure does not adequately balance the problematic issues that this Barbie and its companion dolls manifest.

Keywords:   Mattel’s world of Barbie, Martha Nomvula, Sports Illustrated, Kathy Ireland, Ndebele culture, traditions, indigenous cultures

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