NEW YORK (AP) - October 8, 2009
The "So In Style" line, which hit mass retailers last month,
features BFFs Grace, Kara and Trichelle, each with her own style
and interests and a little sister she mentors: Courtney, Janessa
and Kianna. The dolls reflect varying skin tones - light brown,
chocolate, and caramel - and Trichelle and Kianna have curlier
Barbie designer Stacey McBride-Irby, who is black and has a
6-year-old daughter, said she wanted to create a line of dolls for
young black girls that looked like them and were inspirational and
career-minded. For example, Kara is interested in math and music.
"I want them to see themselves within these dolls, and let them
know that black is beautiful," she said.
Many black women are praising Mattel for its efforts - Black
Barbie hit the shelves in 1980 with white features shared by many
of the dolls following her.
But some say the long straight hair does not address the beauty
issues that many black girls struggle with. In the black community,
long, straight hair is often considered more beautiful than short
Chris Rock highlights the issue in his "Good Hair"
documentary, which opens in select cities on Friday and shows black
women straightening their tight curls with harsh chemicals and
purchasing thousand-dollar hair weaves.
"Why are we always pushing this standard of long hair on our
girls?" asked Gail Parrish, 60, a playwright in Alexandria, Va.,
and a mother of four grown children. "Why couldn't one of the
dolls have a little short afro, or shorter braids or something?"
McBride-Irby said she originally designed all the dolls with
long hair. Combing her Barbie's long hair when she was a girl was
the "highlight of my play experience," she said. She was advised
to create some dolls with curlier hair, so she did.
There is a So In Style hairstyling set so girls can curl,
straighten and style their dolls' hair over and over. (It costs
$24.99, more than a pair of dolls at $19.99.)
That is troubling to Sheri Parks, an associate professor of
American Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park,
because it actively involves girls in the process of straightening
hair. She worries that it reinforces the message that there is
something wrong with natural hair.
"Black mothers who want their girls to love their natural hair
have an uphill battle and these dolls could make it harder," Parks
said in an e-mail.
Aside from the hair, some black women are concerned about the
dolls' thin frames. Barbie, which celebrated her 50th birthday in
March, has for years come under fire for promoting an unrealistic
body image, with her long legs, tiny waist and large breasts.
While white girls also deal with body-image issues, Kumea
Shorter-Gooden, co-author of "Shifting: The Double Lives of Black
Women in America," believes Barbie has a more negative impact on
black girls. They are already struggling with messages that "black
skin isn't pretty and our hair is too kinky and short," she said.
Despite those complaints, Mattel seems to have gotten several
Andrea Slaughter, 38, a mom of two in Newnan, Ga., said she
likes how the designer highlighted values that are critical in the
black community, such as education and mentoring.
Sheila Adams Gardner, 41, a mother of three in Arlington, Va.,
praised the varying skin tones. She said when her daughter was 4,
she became very self-conscious about being lighter than everyone
else in her family.
"She has always had African-American dolls, but rarely dolls
with skin like her own," she said. "Often the lighter dolls were
Hispanic or Indian. It was very heartwarming to look at a series of
African-American Barbies and hear my daughter, now ll, exclaim,
'She looks like me!"'
Even Shorter-Gooden acknowledged the facial features "look like
real black people."
Mattel doesn't release sales figures. But Michelle Chidoni of
Mattel said the dolls are resonating with girls of all colors and
The line will be expanding next year with Rocawear clothing, new
dolls Chandra and her little sister Zahara, and Darren, who will
have a little brother he mentors.
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