How Collectors Are Reimagining the Anna May Wong Barbie Doll

Katie Gee Salisbury
6 min readJan 7, 2024
this Barbie is a movie star

I squealed like any other fangirl when I heard the news that Mattel was releasing a Barbie doll inspired by Anna May Wong. It was another welcome sign, along with the quarter release and biopic, that Anna May is being restored to her rightful place in Hollywood history and popular culture at large.

As a little girl, I loved Barbies. I loved dressing them, brushing their hair, and sending them out on imagined adventures. Maybe I loved them a little too much. I once declared to a childhood playmate with a flick of my ponytail: “I’m a Barbie and you’re not.” I don’t know where I got off making that assertion! I’m not even blonde.

Of course, I placed my order for the Anna May Wong Barbie as soon as I heard the announcement. (Plus, as AMW’s biographer, I knew I could claim it as a legit expense.) And good thing I did because the dolls sold out at Target, Walmart, and on the Mattel website within a week. The only place to get an AMW Barbie now is through resellers on eBay and Amazon, where the going rate ranges from $40 up to $100; the original MSRP was $35. I’ve heard rumors that Mattel might produce a second run of the dolls in the future, but there’s no telling when that will happen.

Mattel’s Anna May Wong Barbie, released in 2023

A strange thing happened once the Anna May Wong Barbies were shipped out into the world. They started re-appearing on eBay without any clothes on. Completely butt naked. Trawling eBay for AMW-related memorabilia, as one does, I scrolled past several listings with seemingly lewd headlines like “STUNNING NUDE ANNA MAY WONG BARBIE.” Included were photos of the doll posed in various stances, all of which looked absurd sans clothing.

My worst fears began to take over. It’s no secret that in life, AMW was stereotyped as the China doll and made to portray the helpless plaything of careless white men all too often. Here we go again, I thought. Now they’re selling her naked for the pleasure of some sick perverts.

Anne Anlin Cheng writes in her book Ornamentalism, “There are few figures who exemplify the beauty of abjectness more than the yellow woman, whose condition of objectification…

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Katie Gee Salisbury

Author of NOT YOUR CHINA DOLL, a new biography of Anna May Wong, forthcoming from Dutton on March 12, 2024. Available for pre-order: www.notyourchinadoll.com