Like many children around the world, Audrey Sue Cruz played with Barbie dolls growing up.
“It was just a huge part of my childhood,” the Filipino American doctor told VICE from a hospital in Las Vegas, where she works in internal medicine. “It was really inspiring to grow up with Barbie dolls and, you know, to pretend play, like dressed-up parties with different types of occupations and jobs.”
Launched in 1959, Barbie has had over 200 careers herself. She’s been a doctor, an athlete, a paratrooper, a dentist, and a teacher. Over the years, Barbie dolls have been modeled after celebrities, athletes, and other cultural icons. Long-criticized for promoting an unrealistic image of beauty, toy manufacturer Mattel has also created a more diverse lineup of Barbie dolls with different skin tones and body types.
Cruz said playing with Barbies helped her to dream about her own future. What she didn’t know back then was that she would become a Barbie model herself. Mattel created a Barbie doll inspired by Cruz as part of its #ThankYouHeroes campaign to honor frontliners during the pandemic. She was picked for joining forces “with other Asian American physicians to fight racial bias and discrimination.”
“I jumped on a call with Barbie and the Mattel executives and that’s when they told me that they saw the video and they were inspired by it and they wanted to honor me with a Barbie doll with [my] likeness for my contribution during the pandemic,” Cruz said.
“I never thought that this was going to be possible for me, you know, [who’s] just a regular doctor.”
A team worked with Cruz for months to create the one of a kind doll. They asked her to take photos of herself from different angles, her clothes, and other personal details. The result was a Barbie that looks just like her.
“I was just so emotional at the time. I was holding back tears,” she said, recalling the moment she saw the doll for the first time. “It was just an incredible feeling.”
Nonprofit organization Stop AAPI Hate reported earlier this year that hate incidents reported to their center have soared since the pandemic started in 2020.
“Here in the U.S., there’s a lot of hatred and stereotyping against Asian Americans and I teamed up with a team of physicians and healthcare professionals from the community to create a video basically denouncing the hate going on against the Asian American population,” Cruz said.
Cruz was born to Filipino parents who migrated to the U.S. As a doctor treating COVID-19 patients, she said she has also experienced racism in the workplace. She recalled how one patient blamed Asians for the coronavirus pandemic.
“She called me ‘oriental’ which is a derogatory term here now and she said, ‘Can you believe what your people did?,’” she said.
“It truly means a lot in terms of representation, and diversity, and being included.”
Aside from Cruz, Mattel also honored other frontline medical workers in different parts of the world.
For Cruz, having a Barbie doll made after her is not just a personal milestone but a win for the Asian community.
“It truly means a lot in terms of representation, and diversity, and being included,” she said.
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