Day of the Dead 'skeleton' Barbie splits opinion in Mexico

For the second year in a row, US toy company Mattel launched a “Day of the Dead” edition of the Barbie doll. AFP/Alfredo Estrella

MEXICO CITY - She's been a princess, a president, a Marine Corps sergeant, an astronaut and a Star Wars stormtrooper. In Mexico for the Day of the Dead festival, Barbie is even a skeleton.

Yet while fans of the iconic doll see it as a homage to the country's rich tradition, critics say it is little more than cultural appropriation.

Mattel has launched the second Barbie based on "Catrina", a skeletal representation of death created by cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada that is a symbol of one of Mexico's most important festivals.

The US toymaker says the doll "honours the traditions, symbols and rituals" of the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on 1 and 2 November.

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But some in Mexico see the Barbie -- which has a price tag of around $72 -- as just another example of big brands cashing in on the country's heritage.

"The cultural, hereditary and symbolic importance that this holiday has for Mexico opens up in the eyes of the market opportunities that are exploited by these firms," said sociologist Roberto Alvarez.

Fans of the iconic doll see "Catrina" Barbie -- which bears certain similarities to renowned painter Frida Kahlo -- as a respectful tribute.

"It means that they take notice of our traditions," said Zoila Muntane, a 54-year-old artist and doll collector who has 2,000 Barbies.

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This year Barbie wears a blush-coloured lace dress and a crown of skeleton hands holding roses and marigolds, unlike the first Day of the Dead edition in 2019 which was dressed in black.

Its creator, Mexican-American designer Javier Meabe, said he sought to "create more awareness about the celebration," which UNESCO in 2003 named an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The festival is believed to be when the gateway separating the living and the deceased opens, allowing people to pay their respects to those who have passed.