In an essay for The Root, Raven L. Hill asks if Mattel's new African-American So In Style Barbie dolls get black people "closer to our mirror reflection" than Barbie, or previous black Barbies. The answer? Yes. And no.
In this video, the So In Style designer, Stacey McBride — who is black — explains that she wanted the dolls to have skin tones, make-up and facial features that were "true to girls in my community." Courtney, the cheerleader doll, has a fuller nose and fuller lips than regular Barbie. Trichelle, the doll "into art and journalism," has curly hair; Kara who loves math and music, has a "darker" skin tone, which McBride says is "almost my complexion," with pride.
Grace and Courtney
Kara and Kiana
Trichelle and Janessa
(The dolls seen above are prototypes; Kianna's hair will be more like Afro-puffs when the dolls are released.)
It's true that these dolls are a great alternative to blonde, blue-eyed Barbie. When I was a kid, I had Christie, who was Barbie's black friend, whose only difference was her skin color — she was basically Barbie, done in brown. But the new So In Style dolls still have some worrying Barbie traits — impossibly slender, long legs; tiny waists. And though a couple of the dolls have curls, others have long, light brown locks. Hair can be a complicated subject for black women, and it would be sad for any little girl to feel as if her texture wasn't desirable or represented.
But, is it a positive step forward? Definitely. Writes Hill:
The dolls come in pairs of big and little sisters to encourage mentoring relationships.… They may not be mirror-perfect, but they come closer to the fantasy than my childhood playthings. I would want these dolls for my daughter.
Toward An ‘Authentic' Black Barbie [The Root]
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