Can Black Barbie Stand Alone?

  • Wears authentic, detailed Baby Phat fashions that reflect her personality
  • Accessories include a golden necklace, matching earrings, sunglasses, and open-toe shoes
  • Sports a chic wavy hairstyle
  • Girls can play out exciting stories in the world of So in Style!
  • Doll cannot stand alone.

Above are the details given about the new Black Barbie doll Released by Mattel, a prominent toy industry. Of the many specification about the black barbie Kara the most astonishing is the detail “Doll cannot stand alone.” In the context of the details this simply means the doll can’t physically stand on her own however, this also references the fact that the black barbie cannot symbolically stand alone as its own character. The black barbie character  “cannot stand alone” as a market product because the black barbie sold by mattel is effectually the white barbie doll mold painted black. In and attempt to add to her blackness the black barbie is given “detailed Baby Phat fashions.” Lastly the black barbie is supposed to sport a “chic wavy hairstyle” to give her a more black look, but this attempt yet again falls short because it is the same hair given to white dolls. Though the black barbie was a nice attempt to diversify a toy line until a black barbie made to represent real black women is made this doll will remain reliant on its white counter part and never be able to stand alone.

How Barbies “of the world” uphold Whiteness

barbies of the world

Mattel’s “Dolls of the World Collection” has been a popular set for many years among Barbie-finatics mainly because of its re-imagining of race on the physical frame of a Barbie. Each individual doll in the collection embodies a different ethnicity and cultural makeup, but through a lens of stereotypes. The Barbie in a Mexican garb is depicted with a Chihuahua, the Indian doll has a Monkey and the Chinese one has a Panda. This is a basic cultural appropriation by Barbie and gives the impression that in order to be from a certain region you have to have dress a certain way as shown through the Barbies. Although Mattel might be trying to represent each doll’s true culture, they are creating formulas for each ethnicity in the collection. They are giving children the assumption that to be from China you need to wear a Cheongsam and own a Panda.

Also, every doll has an absurdly light complexion. In particular, the doll with the whitest tone is seemingly from Australia and looks the most American and “normal” – not just a coincidence. These barbies have been designed to glorify whiteness through their beauty. Associating the attractive image of Barbie with lighter skin portrays light skin as an ideal trait. Each doll’s skin and beauty are both completely gentrified in an effort to preserve White dominance, which in turn detracts from every nonwhite culture.

Barbie Perpetuates the White Norm

When Barbie was created, she was the epitome of “beauty”. She was tall and thin, yet curvy, she had long shiny blonde hair, and she was white. The company that created Barbie, Mattel Inc. marketed their product as a toy that allows young girls to see themselves as an older woman who lives in a world filled with glamour, fun and beauty. Mattel Inc. was incredibly successful for many years after their creation of Barbie in 1959. However, they faced a lot of criticism. Critics of Barbie targeted her unrealistic body proportions, her portrayal of a stereotypical woman, and her whiteness.

In order to combat criticism Mattel created the first black Barbie, named “Colored Francie” in 1967. “Colored Francie” was marketed to create a role model with the “looks like me” element for young black girls. The creation of “Colored Francie” was meant to reverse criticisms of Mattel being racist. However, adding a new doll who is Barbie’s friend, the “but also” as Ann Ducille calls her, perpetuates the idea that whiteness is normal.In the 60′s when the first black Barbie was created, she was the “but also” to the “normal” and “regular” white Barbie.

Today black Barbies are still manufactured but they continue to perpetuate the idea that white is normal and black is different by labeling black Barbies as “African- American Barbie” while white Barbies are just labeled “Barbie”. The young children who are playing with Barbies are impressionable and are being heavily influenced by this distorted portrayal. They think of white Barbie as “real” Barbie and all the other Barbies that are meant to depict women of color, are seen as different and as the “other”.

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Barbie Girl Living in a White, Plastic World

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“I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie World.” Isn’t that how the song goes? We are living in Barbie world, where extreme measures are taken to emulate the white beauty ideal instilled in all girls from a young age. Barbie dolls encourage young girls to beautify themselves by having perfect white skin, long straight, tamed blonde hair, and impossible body proportions.

This young fashion model from Ukraine, named Valeria Lukyonova, has literally become a Barbie doll. She claims to have had no plastic surgery done to alter her body (except for a breast enhancement) and achieves her look solely through make-up, according to an ABC news story where she was interviewed. Even if her claims are true, she looks completely plastic. ABC news reporters call this her “perfect look”. Since when was “perfect” reduced to looking completely plastic and fake? If this is a rising trend in models in the fashion industry, young girls will have not only Barbie dolls as models of beauty; humans will become the models of “Barbie ideals” showing young girls that it is possible to make oneself plastic in order to perpetuate white beauty for generations to come.

As the Barbie theme song goes, “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!” Is it though?

 

DIY Barbie and Natural Hair Dolls

We’ve had a TON of Barbie and doll posts after our reading of Ducille’s Toy Theory. Related to our great conversation on “ethnically correct” Barbies, race, and representation, I found a great blog, Beads, Braids, and Beyond, wherein I found a DIY (do-it-yourself) process to make Barbie’s friends’ hair natural (“friends” here but you could certainly do this to Barbie herself too!) with pipe cleaners and boiling water. Transformation below!

Straight Haired Barbies Grace Chandra

Straight Haired Barbies, Grace and Chandra

DIY Barbie Natural Hair

DIY Barbie Natural Hair, Pipe Cleaner Process Prior to Boiling Water Dip

DIY Barbie Natural Hair

After Overnight Drying and a Trim, DIY Barbie Natural Hair, Done!

DIY Barbie Natural Hair Friends

 Natural Hair Gorgeous Friends!

This seems an extraordinary labor of love, like so many other things, that would primarily burden the moms and caregivers of Black or biracial girls (from the blogger herself, “No more buying expensive dolls just because they have curly or natural hair.”). What does it mean for loved ones to have to DIY Barbies for their daughters and nieces? The comments are telling:

This is so great. I absolutely LOVE what you’ve done! It gives us MORE options. As we all know, there are many different hair textures “out there” and this really gives us the ability to choose different textures. I am so excited to see so many people interested in black dolls with natural hair. They are SO BEAUTIFUL.

I feel so much pride looking at those dolls.

Has Mattel made natural hair Barbies on their own? It seems they could certainly do this with ease, saving these DIY fixes. For those of you traveling home to your stash of childhood Barbies (as discussed, with mohawks, bobs, etc.) over the holidays, let us know if you try this process – I want pics! The original DIY Natural Hair tutorial comes from another blog, How to Play With Barbies, you might also really enjoy for its DIYing of Barbies to make them more “real” and inclusive and discussions of race as well.

Barbie and Bratz

Typically dolls are used as self-identifiers for young children. However certain issues arise when comparing the popular Barbie doll to its counterpart Bratz. While Barbie has been known to have significant issues of racial exclusion, rarely depicting minorities and often stereotyping, its counterpart Bratz seems to include a much more diverse group of dolls. That being said Bratz dolls promote a much more risqué and inappropriate image. These dolls show an image of a girl that is in no way suitable for a young person to identify with, and furthermore what does it mean that the racially diverse group of dolls endorses the overly sexualized female image. What are we teaching young people if such dolls are intended to teach self-identification?

Trying to Diversify the Barbie Brand

Black Barbie

This picture is related to DuCille’s piece “Toy Theory”, as it discusses Mattel’s efforts at making black Barbie dolls. The idea of creating racially diverse dolls came about so that children can play with toys that they feel they can relate to more than the original white Barbie. This doll in particular is interesting because it does not necessarily portray the typical American girl; the majority of kids in do not go about their everyday lives dressed in traditional African clothing. Mattel makes the assumption that the children who are playing with this toy will like it because it will help them relate to their African roots, which is a generalization of where they come from. Also, the fact that this doll was designed this way shows that many people still see blacks differently from the rest of society, despite the common claim that we are in a post-racist society.

Black Barbie?

The Cover of Vogue Italia (2009). Features a black barbie doll.

“Back when I started playing with Barbie, there were no Christies (Barbie’s black friend, born in 1968) or black Barbies (Born in 1980, brown plastic poird into blond Barbie’s mold). I had two blonds, which I bought with Christmas money from girls at school. I cut off their hair and dressed them in African-print fabric… After an “incident” at school (where all of the girls looked like Barbie and none of them looked like me), I galloped down our stairs with one Barbie, her blond head hitting each spoke of the banister… until her head popped off, lost to the graveyard behind the stairwell. Then I tore off each limb, and sat on the stairs for a long time twirling the torso like a baton.”

- Lisa Jones

Taken from “Toy Theory: Black Barbie and the Deep Play of Difference”

Images of “Ethnic” Barbies

DuCille’s Toy Theory discusses the problematic nature of Mattel trying to make Barbies for African American girls (or boys). One of Mattel’s attempts was to create Barbies that had “traditionally African American features” including larger lips, a wider nose and a higher butt. They also tried to create dolls with different types of African American hair textures, but fell short of creating truly authentic hair because according to research, young girls like hair that they can brush.

Other attempts at creating “authentic” dolls were to make dolls of different ethnicities. Mattel has issued dolls that are Jamaican, Nigerian, ect. The main marker of these dolls, however, was their clothing. (See Kwanza Barbie). These types of dolls offer a sort of vacation to different parts of the world, because these dolls are foreign and exotic.

These types of dolls are important because they not only influence the way in which African American doll consumers view African American women, but how all people think about African American women. These images serve to reinforce racial stereotypes which negatively affect African American women. These black Barbies will never be as important to young girls as the white Barbie, because white Barbie is the original and main Barbie. Young girls are very aware of the fact that these African American Barbies will continue to be second class citizens and therefore that they too come second.