Will the Real Black Barbie Please Stand Up?

Who do you picture when you think “Black Barbie”? Lil Kim? Beyonce? Gabby Union?

Mattel recently created and launched the  “So In Style” (S.I.S., for short) Barbie,  a line of black dolls featuring more “authentic facial characteristics” than the company’s black dolls have in the past, in an effort to better reflect African American images and interests. The dolls have “fuller lips, a wider nose, more distinctive cheek bones and curlier hair,” says the toymaker, and are intended to “celebrate the diversity of African American girls and encourage positive themes.”

The idea for “So In Style” Barbie was developed by Barbie designer of 12 years, Stacey McBride-Irby, an African American mother of two. In an interview, McBride-Irby explained that she wanted the dolls to have skin tones, make-up and facial features that were “true to girls in my community.” McBride-Irby said she was inspired to create black fashion dolls that her 4-year-old daughter could relate to. She said she also wanted the  dolls to “…encourage girls to be inspired and dream big.”

The line includes three best friends, Grace, Kara and Trichelle, who are all about fashion, fun and friendship. Each of the dolls has its own unique personality and style and reflects one of three varying skin tones. One prefers math and the drill team, while another art and journalism. And, the developer paired each of the  dolls with a little sister doll, to foster the idea of mentorship in pursuing one’s goals.

Despite the efforts and good intentions the dolls, “So In Style” Barbie has gotten mixed reviews. While some like the dolls, others feel that Mattel relied too much on hip-hop stereotypes in selecting details like shiny bling, big earrings and fancy sneakers.


Not all black people like hip hop,” said Barbara Mootoo, 15, of Manhattan. “They gave her a chain like a 50 Cent video,” referring to Kara’s silver rope chain necklace


 Tyaine Danclaire, 15, of the Bronx, liked Trichelle’s straight, long hair because it looked like “a weave,” but she thought the idea “was sorta racist.”


They say black girls are ghetto with the gold earrings, with the big bling; I don’t agree with that, she said.


So, is it a positive step forward? Definitely. Writes Raven Hill of the Root:


As a child, Barbie was the fantasy version of how I envisioned my grown-up, glamorous life: closets full of gorgeous dresses and sparkling jewels, my choice of high-powered careers, and without question, fabulous hair…Barbie could be anything or anyone she want[ed]—doctor or diva, bride or bombshell, princess or president..… 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.


So the question remains: What should black Barbie look like?


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2 Responses to Will the Real Black Barbie Please Stand Up?

  1. Kenya says:

    The face mold of the dolls are beautiful; they are the Mbili face mould and I happen to have one (The “That’s So Raven” doll, which the doll looks nothing like Raven) and I just changed her clothes. I only got the doll b/c the doll’s face look similar to mine. LOL! I know…sounds vain! Plus, I love dolls.

    But on a serious note, the fact that the dolls (as well as other McBride-Irby’s Black dolls) channel mainstream hip-hop does irk me. That teenager was right stating that not all Black people like hip-hop. I, for one, HATE mainstream hip-hop. I listen to some positive, underground hip-hop but by no means support commercial rap. Number two, I don’t wear clothing labels made by hip-hop designers (like Baby Phat, Dereon, &c) let alone clothing by regular designer names, period. I have my own style. And Number three, some of these Black mothers need to teach their little Black girls better about loving their natural African features. Weave and chemicals do not equal true Black beauty. Beyonce, Lil’ Kim = NOT TRUE BLACK BEAUTY. They are just within the gamut of African-American female types, both au natural and synthetic.

    The Brandy barbie doll had braids and the Generation Girl Nichelle had kinky curls. They could had brought those styles back for the SIS dolls. Now unless they gave these dolls straight hair for economic and manufacturer reasons, then they should give some SIS dolls some cute tizillions and bohemian curls! ;)

    Nevertheless, they are cute little dollies! ^_^

  2. Very informative article. I’ve found your site via Yahoo and I’m really happy about the information you provide in your articles. Btw your sites layout is really broken on the Chrome browser. Would be really great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!

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