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?