How To Give Barbie An Afro (And Call It A Halo Instead)

Kristl Smith Tyler

People who were part of the Black Pride movement of the 1960s also took pride in wearing their hair natural instead of using straightening combs or chemical relaxers. Their pride in African culture was an Afro-centric view that really shook (read: terrified) most middle-class Americans. The way they wore their hair was soon dubbed an "Afro," which was shorthand for Afro-centric.

Fifty years later, people often shorten the word and say "'Fro." It seems to me that the word "'Fro" more often than not, comes out of the mouths of drunk fraternity boys making perilously lame jokes, and that bugs me.


I recently decided to start calling it a Halo instead. Why? Well, first of all, because the hairstyle I remember from my elementary school days was a monument to supreme coolness.

Only a select few of my classmates had the hairstyle — probably because their parents considered the hairstyle controversial, as so many people in the early '70s did.

Halos, believe it or not, were the sagging pants of a bygone era. They were a way of telling everyone over a certain age or of a certain demographic that you didn't care what they thought was appropriate hair. Halos were a big, cool middle finger to the establishment.

When I saw someone with a Halo, I might as well have heard Ave Maria playing. I was in the presence of someone whom I had decided was divine.


My elementary school classmate Margaret's depictions of her Afro-ed family only added to the mystique. When she drew a row of her brothers and sisters with bell-bottomed jeans, their eyebrows and noses were constructed from a single unbroken line. The line snaked over one eye, down the inner cheek, made a curved W for the wings, nostrils and tip of the nose and rose back up the other side to delineate the other eyebrow.


Their heads were topped by perfectly circular Halos.

Her family looked exactly like 7th Century Coptic Christian Art to me and I came to believe it was no coincidence. (The image at left isChrist and Abbot Mena. Late 6th or early 7th century.
Housed at the Louvre, in an area devoted to Coptic Christian art)


So the choice for me is clear. When I consider my childhood reverence for the so-called Afro, and the way the term has devolved into the sneering references of today, I feel forced to take a stand. I firmly believe in the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, that says that thought follows language. If I allow the word "Afro" to stay in my vocabulary and corrupt my thoughts, I will certainly become apostate.

I have to give this hair a name that doesn't appear on a rainbow Halloween Wig.

For me at least, it is a Halo.

Halo hair is hair that reaches for the heavens but is as soft as a cloud.


In case I haven't been clear about this, not just anyone can have a Halo. My daughter has what I call Rotini hair.

I've given her a few Halo-approximations over the years. I have to back-comb her hair for a good twenty minutes and use a lot of AquaNet to lock it into ill-advised, overly-crispy, matted-up tangles.


It looks adorable - but I don't let anyone touch it. Because if they did, they'd know we were faking it. Real Halo hair doesn't require any stiff chemicals. My daughter and I can't have the truly Angelic and Powerful-Yet-Gentle Halo that her father would be capable of achieving, were he so inclined. But, Leah and I, we know how to fake it, so we tease it up and snap a few quick pics. Then we rinse it out and let others draw erroneous conclusions.

So, blah, blah, blah.

This article is actually a tutorial for creating Halo or Rotini hairstyles for your barbies.



  • A doll
  • End papers (sold at beauty supply shops)
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Scissors
  • Boiling water

Note about end papers: If you start with a doll that has long hair and you plan to make a style similar to the style shown in my picture, you won't need end papers, they're optional. But if you start with a doll that has shorter hair and don't plan to cut it any further, end papers will be essential.


1. Cut pipe cleaners into two-inch pieces and bend each one in half. They will look like little "V" shapes.

2. Section off a piece of hair and twist it into a tight spiral. The smaller the sections, the tighter the curls will be.


3. Wrap the spiral in an end paper (optional)


4. Place a pipe cleaner onto the scalp and pull the twisted section into the crook of the pipe cleaner. Be sure to keep the hair spiraled tightly as you zig-zag it.


5. When you finish zig-zagging each section, twist the pipe cleaner ends around each other to lock everything into place.


fully wrapped head


6. Once you have all the sections in pipe cleaners, dip the head in boiling water for the count of ten.
7. Wait for the head to cool – usually a few hours, but overnight is best. Rinse in cold water and place doll in freezer if you want to speed things up.
8. Take the pipe cleaners out.
9. If you have length to spare, trim each section to get rid of straight ends or strays.


If you want rotini style, don't ever comb the curls out. In fact, don't do anything else after taking out the pipe cleaners.

If you want a Halo, use your fingers to separate each rotini curl and then comb them out. Back-comb as needed.


For a nice Angela-Davis-lookin' Halo (as seen in the very first picture at the top), be sure to bring some of the hair down over the forehead and then shape it back up underneath.

You can style the hair into almost any popular style that a human might wear, if that human has so-called kinky or nappy hair.


Speaking of so-called kinky or nappy hair… we need a new word for THAT texture of hair. The only texture truly capable of achieving a Halo without the help of chemicals or a trip into outer space.

Now, keep in mind, it can't just be any old word. It needs to point up the fact that so-called kinky hair is the only perfect circle in nature that is not maddeningly ephemeral. Raindrops are a perfect circle (any liquid traveling through the air I guess), and so are soap bubbles – but the only perfect circle that humans ever achieve themselves or that have any permanence are divine curls of the natural hair sometimes derisively called nappy or kinky or wooly.

So, it's going to take about a half hour of your time to twirl and zig-zag that doll's hair into a Halo. Therefore, your assignment is that while you're doing God's work with your hands, why not put Beyonce's track Halo on your MP3 player and put your mind to work on a new name for the Heavenly perfect-circle curls?


Oh and be sure to let us know what you come up with as the new official name for the Halo texture!

Kristl Smith Tyler is passionate about race relations, social justice and making the world a better place. When she isn't writing about these things on a human scale, she's making her daughter's Barbieland a place where social justice is pervasive and people of all colors and shapes are respected and celebrated. She writes about the construction of Leah's Barbieland on her blog How To Play Barbies. Follow Kristl on Twitter and Facebook.


This post originally appeared on How To Play Barbies. Republished with permission.

FYI: A natural hair group in Columbus, Georgia is giving away Barbies like this for Christmas; more info here.

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