This is a link (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091008/ap_on_bi_ge/us_fea_lifestyles_black_barbies)to a story about the new line of Black Barbie dolls called So In Style. I was a bit surprised that this was news and my first reaction was haven't we always had black barbies. I did. She had a short curly do and a red sparkly dress. I broke her head off and in recent years I found her again on Ebay and bought her.
These particular dolls supposedly have more "African American" features but what is that, black people come in almost every shade under the rainbow. We have wide noses and thin noses, full lips and thin lips, yellow skin and brown skin. Some light, some dark. Some of us have naturally curly hair, some of us prefer to straighten our hair. We are beautiful because we vary more than any race of people in the world, even within our own families. The designer also made these dolls very inspirational because they focus on mentoring and education. Those are important. She wanted her daughter to have dolls that were a positive reflection of her own likeness. But I do wonder though in creating these dolls if her daughter asked for them or did she think that her daughter needed them?
Of course not all reviews have been positive. Some choose to focus on the doll's hair. Some dolls were made with curly hair, some with straight hair. She also added a hairstyling salon to the line. You know we have a love/hate relationship with the beauty salon. Still Mattel faces the criticism that this will promote hair straightening. Someone even said that Barbie has a negative impact on black girls because they already struggle enough with beauty. All valid points but clearly from the perspective of an adult. The one thing this article lacks is any feedback from the very people these dolls are trying to help, the little African American girl.
Children see color but they don't see race until it's introduced to them by adults. Sure they notice if someone is brown or white. But they will all play together until an adult points out the differences and the reasons why you should or shouldn't play with someone. The people interviewed for this article were all adults and as adults we live and breathe race and it's effects on people. These dolls are a result of that. If race didn't matter so much to adults these dolls wouldn't be necessary. Playing with my two nieces, I never heard them say that they wanted black dolls but I have heard them say that "their mother" didn't want them playing with white dolls. When I asked them why, they had no answer. An adult put that in their heads and it's sad. We as adults are the one's that tell kids you need a doll to reflect who you are. And when a doll is presented that addresses this, it's still not good enough.
I loved Barbie. Still do. If I could work for Mattel designing Barbie it would be a dream come true. My girlfriends (black and white) and I would play with them constantly for hours. We never cared about the color of the dolls. We did care what they were wearing. We did have to share one Ken doll. Most of dolls were white and it never mattered. Instead of focusing on color, we focused on who the dolls were and who they could be. Part time models and owners of a computer company, Kip's Computers. I don't remember thinking I wish this doll looked like me. I don't remember the doll giving me low self esteem because really that should come from my mother and not a doll. One Christmas I do remember asking for a Baby Alive doll (they pooped you know) and I got two. One from my mom (a black one) and one from my dad (a white one). I named one Katrina and one Nicole. I cut their hair. I painted their nails. I dressed and redressed them a million times. Right now they sit in my attic patiently waiting for the day that I have a daughter to play with them. I never cared about the color, I just loved the dolls. The same is true of my Cabbage Patch Kids. They are black, white and Hispanic. But it was never about the color, just about getting the doll.
Stepping off the soap box now, I just think it's sad that people need to criticize the dolls for their hair or whatever and just let them be dolls. Little girls are capable of seeing those dolls as more than just colored pieces of plastic. If they have an imagination like I did, that Barbie will be so much more than a black doll. She'll be a business owner, a professor, an engineer and so much more. Maybe she'll be all three. These dolls are cute because they are pretty and fashionable and fun. We as adults need to get over ourselves and our prejudices and stop letting a doll dictate who our kids will be and what they will become. Sometimes it would nice if a doll could just be a doll and not a role model. Let's leave that for the parents.