Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, Ph.D.

Life in the Intersection

Representation Matters

Seeing someone like yourself can increase self-esteem.

Posted Mar 27, 2018

United States State Department/Wikimedia
Source: United States State Department/Wikimedia

Chloe Kim’s Olympic gold medal for the United States in snowboarding inspired millions. This young, athletic, confident woman is a role model for many. But she is especially a role model for Asian Americans.

Asian Americans are largely invisible in the media. Over the past 20 years, only about one out 100 characters in prime time TV was Asian American. The prime time sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, starring an Asian American family, has been popular for the past three years. But there was a 20-year gap between this show and the previous prime time sitcom featuring Asian Americans, All American Girl. And All American Girl was cancelled after only one season. There has not been sustained public representation of Asian Americans.

What difference does the representation of someone like yourself make? Cultural socialization involves parents teaching their children about their ethnic heritage. An example is talking about important historical or cultural figures. A popular figure, like Chloe Kim, makes Asian American history and culture visible and accessible.

Cultural socialization promotes children’s cultural and ethnic pride. In a study of Southeast and East Asian American youth, cultural socialization was associated with ethnic pride. Ethnic pride, in turn, was associated with self-esteem.

But not all Asian American families culturally socialize their children. In a study of Black, Dominican, Chinese, and White youth in New York, cultural socialization in Chinese families was relatively limited. This may be because pride is not emphasized in East Asian cultures. It also could be because Asian Americans are invisible and there are fewer opportunities to talk about historical or cultural figures.

Mattel recently introduced a Chloe Kim doll in its “Sheroes” line. Mattel has sold Asian Barbie dolls. But apart from having black hair and eyeliner, these dolls are shaped like other Barbie dolls. Unrealistically tall and thin with a large bosom and White facial features. The Chloe Kim doll is not a Barbie doll but resembles Chloe Kim. This doll has a realistic shape and Asian American facial features.

The Chloe Kim doll is a chance for Mattel to make an Asian American hero visible and accessible. A Mattel Chloe Kim doll would sustain attention on an Asian American beyond the Olympics. This doll would be a great tool for Asian American families to culturally socialize their children. However, in response to requests to purchase the doll, Mattel has replied that it is “one of a kind” and “not for sale.”

Even from a pure marketing standpoint, the Chloe Kim doll should be profitable. Chloe Kim is an Olympic hero whose appeal goes far beyond the 20 million Asian Americans in the United States. I have started a petition to Tell Mattel to Sell the Chloe Kim Doll. Please consider signing to increase the visibility of Asian Americans. Because representation matters.

References

Gartner, M., Kiang, L., & Supple, A. (2014). Prospective links between ethnic socialization, ethnic and American identity, and well-being among Asian-American adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(10), 1715-1727. doi: 10.1007/s10964-013-0044-0

Hughes, D. L., Del Toro, J., & Way, N. (2017). Interrelations among dimensions of ethnic-racial identity during adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 53(11), 2139-2153. doi: 10.1037/dev0000401

Hughes, D., Rodriguez, J., Smith, E. P., Johnson, D. J., Stevenson, H. C., & Spicer, P. (2006). Parents' ethnic-racial socialization practices: A review of research and directions for future study. Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 747-770. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.5.747

Tukachinsky, R., Mastro, D., & Yarchi, M. (2015). Documenting portrayals of race/ethnicity on primetime television over a 20‐year span and their association with national‐level racial/ethnic attitudes. Journal of Social Issues, 71(1), 17-38. doi: 10.1111/josi.12094