The new line of darker-skinned Barbie BFFs may be a vast improvement over Mattel’s notorious “Colored Francie” of the 1960’s or the inexplicable “Oreo Fun Barbie” of 1997, but they’re still not quite Michelle Obama.
“It’s a step in the right direction. I love that they have different skin tones,” said Shellene Drakes-Tull, marketing communications director of Black Pearls Community Services, a group of greater Toronto young Black women that runs community and mentoring programs for Black women and girls.
“Who knows? The next time around, they might be more representative of all of the different types of Black people.”
Designed by Stacey McBride-Irby, Grace, Trichelle and Kara differ from the original Barbie and her many family and friends because of their broader noses, higher cheekbones, fuller lips, three “little sisters” and “aspirational” back stories.
“This is something Mattel needed to do”, said McBride-Irby, who was inspired by watching her now 6-year-old daughter play with her Barbie.
“I wanted to be true to the girls and their moms in my community,” said McBride-Irby, who has designed dolls for Mattel for 12 years. “I made sure they had a fuller nose and fuller lips. I was answering my community’s needs.”
And this time, they’ve also got a powerful marketing campaign behind them.
Next season, McBridge-Irby will deliver an even darker-skinned Barbie BFF called Sandra to increase the “diversity.”
Barbie has had a Black friend, Christie, since 1968. The first collector Black Barbies turned up in the 1980’s, looking identical to the alabaster-skinned originals. Barbie acquired three Black friends briefly in the early 1990s, the “Shani” dolls that supposedly looked more “ethnic.”
The new “little sisters” are designed to inspire Black teens to mentor younger girls, either their own sisters or in the community, McBride-Irby said. Each doll also matches an academic side “that moms can hone in on” with her fun side; Kara, for example, is into “math and music.” But it’s the hair that needs work. The dolls have “Beyonce-looking” long hair that can be curled and styled, said Drakes-Tull. Some short, curly Afros would have been encouraging, she said.
Focus groups persuaded McBride-Irby to curl Trichelle’s hair, she told The Star Thursday in an interview from California.”As far as the hair, I wanted to create dolls little girls would play with. They couldn’t have as much fun playing with an Afro.”Drakes-Tull agrees that’s true, although felt some imagination and authenticity could have produced a Barbie BFF with a wardrobe of hair extensions to play with. “There is a lot of politics around hair and accepting the way it is” for Black women, Drakes-Tull said.
The new “So In Style” line isn’t available in Canada, although a Mattel spokesperson said it might arrive in eight weeks or so. Toys R Us were unable to say when they might be sold here. Barbie collector Margaret Matsui intends to bring them in herself, though, because she’s spotted a surge of interest in Black dolls. “This is the year colour has disappeared” in dolls, said Matsui, who operates My Favourite Dolls in Mississauga. The collector Black Barbies with their neon wardrobes from the 1980’s have been “my best-selling doll this year,” she said, and the new Black line “is something significant that is going to go down in Barbie history.
“People love them. They like the Black face sculpting over the white ones. Or they say, ‘This doll is so pretty.’ They’re not seeing black and white anymore.” She and Drakes-Tull are ready to cut Mattel some slack, just for trying. “You can’t make everyone happy,” said Matsui. “It’s hard to encapsulate all Black people in three dolls,” said Drakes-Tull.
Black Barbie: Vogue Italian Style
Everybody’s talking about Barbie this year, everybody’s celebrating one way or the other. But how about Black Barbies? Shouldn’t we celebrate them too? Good thing Franca Sozzani (Vogue Italy supreme editor) thought about them and highlighted the Black Barbie in a special Barbie Issue supplement to the Vogue July with McMenamt the Legend.
Just looking at those marvelous models, I feel the urge to run out the door and buy me some Barbies! (it’s tough to get a house literally full with boys toys to become Barbie friendly, but not if I have something to say about it!) Just look at them sitting on those couches and teaching us how to really present lingerie! Beautiful!
This year, fashion celebrates Barbie’s 50th anniversary. So how many anniversaries do we have to count for the Black Barbies? The first Black Barbie was given to us in 1980 (the first Black doll from Barbie was actually introduced in 1967 and was called Black Francie) and this year, a new Black Barbie (limited edition) was introduced by Mattel. Called So In Style, S.I.S, the new Black Barbies have more accurate facial characteristics (wider nose, more prominent cheek bones and significantly curly, frizzy hair). Ignoring the limited edition downer, I wish I could get my hands on one of those Black beauties! Ahem Barbies!
Italian Vogue celebrated Black Barbie in their July 2009 Barbie Issue. Last year’s Black Issue was so impressive and successful that they somewhat reinterpreted it by including Black barbies in this collector’s edition! Here are a few photo’s from the issue.
Sources: Parentcental.ca, Style Frizz and T.E.E.N Diaries