Toward an ‘Authentic’ Black Barbie

Does Mattel’s new line, with fuller lips, noses and curly hair, get us closer to our mirror reflection?

Photo courtesy Flickr user mawphoto

“I wanted to design more dolls for black women and have them represented in the Barbie world,” she said. “I wanted to offer authentic skin tones with fuller noses and lips to moms and girls at a more affordable option. I wanted them to have a doll that looks like them.”

So In Style, at first glance, seems to address frequent criticisms. The line reflects the diversity of skin color among black women. Mattel’s efforts to create an ethnically correct doll go back decades. In comparing So In Style to the earlier vintage dolls, I can see the careful attempts made to get these dolls right.

Aside from the appearance, the doll’s interests are both fun and scholarly—one doll prefers science and drill team while another one likes art and journalism. 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.

When McBride-Irby presented the first versions of the line to an advisory board of African-American women, all of the dolls had long hair with a slight curl, like most Barbie dolls. The panel encouraged McBride-Irby to show that short and curly hair could be fun to style, too.

Now one doll has Afro puffs and another one has curly ponytails.

I would want these dolls for my daughter. McBride-Irby’s own daughter is a big fan.

“She says, ‘Mommy’s the same skin color as Kara’ and that she’s the same color as Trichelle.”

One day, when I have a little girl of my own, maybe she’ll say the same as we walk up and down the Barbie aisle at the toy store, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the beautiful dolls.

Raven L. Hill is a writer who lives in Maryland.