They look just like normal school girls. Wearing black chadors over pink manteaux and headscarves, they stand around the yard gazing at a tin can marked “Death to America.” A fire is burning inside the tin.
One by one, the girls approach the fire. With a show of fury and hate, they snap the heads of the dolls off and throw them into the fire. The camera comes to rest on a school official, who holds her chador tightly around her face. “Barbie is a propaganda agent for Western culture,” she says. “So they are destroying the dolls in this ceremony.”
The schoolgirls throw the rest of the Barbie doll bodies into the fire. As a reward for their actions, they are given dolls with covered hair. The national TV news program 20:30 broadcasts a short clip of the ceremony, which took place at a school near Tehran.
Barbie dolls are very popular in Iran, and it is not the first time that they have been called a symbol of Western cultural invasion. On January 20, 2012 the national police force warned toy shops that it was an offence to sell Barbies and that those businesses caught selling them would be forced to close and the proprietors punished. “Tehran’s Public Places Police will carry out an operation to seize Barbie dolls across the city,” reported Mehr News Agency at the time. “The declared goal is to counter Western symbols, which promote moral laxity.”
“Up to now, the police have closed the shutters of at least 20 toy shops selling Barbie dolls,” the news agency reported, quoting an informed source.
The police operation followed the introduction of a new generation of made-in-Iran “Sara and Dara” dolls. According to Mohammad-Bagher Adousi, who at the time was the cultural deputy at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, these dolls were not produced to counter Barbie dolls, but to make dolls inspired by authentic Iranian traditions available to children. Adousi also said that the ban on selling Barbie dolls was necessary because the toys set bad moral examples.
In 1996, officials of the institute came up with the idea of homemade dolls to fight the “destructive” popularity of Barbie dolls. The first batch of Sara and Dara dolls — which were actually made in Hong Kong, not Iran — was introduced in 2002. But they have never been able to outsell Barbie dolls, even though they are cheaper.
The Dara and Sara dolls — eight-year-old twins marketed wearing a variety of Iranian folk costumes — come with different accessories, including an audiobook and a notebook. A third, improved generation of Sara and Dara dolls was introduced just before autumn 2015. The arms and the knees of the new dolls are bendable, and they are lighter than Barbie dolls. But despite all of this, Iranian children still prefer Barbie dolls.
Barbie has a wide range of outfits, from evening costumes to nightgowns, pregnancy dresses and bikinis. With the right outfit and accessories, Barbie can morph into different characters, including a dentist or a construction worker. It is no wonder, then, that a search on the web for “Barbie doll” in Persian will result in floods of articles about the West’s use of Barbie dolls as a tool of cultural invasion.
Golden Hair and Blue Eyes: Not Iranian?
“For centuries, the beautiful black eyes of Iranian girls have inspired Iranian poets’ descriptions of feminine beauty,” wrote Mohammad-Ali Zam, the head of Cultural Affairs for the Islamic Development Organization, which falls under the supervision of the Supreme Leader. “Isn’t it bizarre that now they wear blue, gray, honey-colored and green lenses and cut their flowing dark hair — to which for hundreds of years lovers hung their hearts — like boys and color it golden, sunshine-red or silver? This is because many boys and teenagers have accepted their childhood dolls as standards of beauty. They are now looking for brides as pretty as those dolls. And that is why our country is a bigger consumer of blond and golden hair dye than many other countries in the world. All over the world, it is old women who use hair color to cover their white hair, but in Iran this phenomenon of ‘making oneself up like a doll’ has become popular among the young people.”
Watch the Burning Barbie Ceremony in Iran! Students at a girls’ school near Tehran took part in a unique cultural lesson. They burnt their Barbie dolls in canisters marked “Death to America” as teachers looked on.Posted by Iranwire English on Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Laleh Eftekhari, a female member of the parliament’s Cultural Committee, is another opponent of Barbie dolls. She says has not seen the video of the schoolgirls destroying the toys, but she tells IranWire: “I know the West has been targeting our culture using toys and stationery. This amounts to a cultural invasion and we must inform our children about it.” As always happens, though, Ms. Eftekhari says she has no time to chat and bids me goodbye.