Have you seen the new African-American Barbies? I haven’t. But according to this Broadsheet post, the dolls are generating much discussion from parents of all races.
See, the dolls, unlike Barbies of old, are designed to reflect the way black women actually look, versus the old Barbies which were exactly the same as the white ones but made out of dark brown plastic and topped with the same long, straight hair in black instead of blonde. Doll designer Stacy McBride-Irby drew inspiration from her own young daughters for the dolls, which have wider noses and fuller lips.
Some parents think the dolls don’t go far enough, especially in terms of hair. One has curly hair, while the other two have long, wavy, light brown hair or the same long, straight hair as the original. And one of the accessories for the dolls is a kit that lets girls straighten the hair of their dolls. Some parents feel (rightfully, I think) that this will just add to the beauty issues little black girls can have, reinforcing the message that having straight hair is the norm and of course you’d want to change your hair, or your doll’s hair if it wasn’t that way.
And of course, some people are saying that the dolls still perpetuate the unrealistic notions of how women are supposed to look, just like the white Barbie. Because no matter how realistic or not these dolls might look from the neck up, from the neck down they’re still all Barbie.
Personally, I have no issue with Barbie. I went through a protracted Barbie phase and if anything it just improved my fashion sense (slightly, I might add). I just bought my daughter her first one. I think if the messages girls are getting place emphasis on their value as a person beyond their looks, they are smart enough to figure out on their own that lots of beautiful people look nothing at all like Barbie.
I did always wish there was a brown-haired Barbie that looked more like me, though. And I’m thinking if I were raising an African-American daughter, I’d be pleased that there was a doll that reflected her own beauty, not simply handed her a darker-skinned version of the white “ideal.”