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Black Barbie Gets Real

Black BarbiesBack in 1967, Mattel came out with their first so-called African-American Barbie doll.  Her name was Colored Francie and other than her hair and skin color, she looked exactly like the white Francie doll.  Since that time, the toy company hasn’t done much better in creating a Barbie doll that African-American girls could identify with.  But last month, Mattel gave it another shot with the debut of three new black Barbie friends:  Grace, Kara and Trichelle.  Did they get it right this time? 

The answer to that question depends upon who you ask. With varying skin tones, fuller lips and wider noses, the dolls are being praised for having more realistic features than previous efforts.  In addition, they have been given scholarly interests and are sold with cute little sister dolls to mentor.

But there are complaints that the dolls are not “black enough,” especially when it comes to their hair.  While one of the three has medium length curly hair, the other two have nearly straight flowing locks.  What’s more, these dolls are part of the “So in Style” line which includes accessories for curling, styling and straightening the dolls’ hair.  This hair straightening option, say critics, perpetuates the idea that naturally curly hair is something to be corrected.

Considering the fact that Barbie has been accused of setting up unrealistic expectations in girls since 1959, these criticisms are not surprising. Whether it is their tiny waists, gigantic breasts or unrealistic hair, there is always going to be something “not right” about Barbie and her friends.  But I think these new dolls are gorgeous and applaud Mattel for their attempts to get real.

Image: AP Photo/Mattel

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