Black like Barbie and Me

*Updated to include the lastest images and designer credits.

 

When I was a child my mom searched high and low to get me dolls that looked like me–my parents we very black conscious—but even as they found black Barbies, way back in the late 70s black Barbie had dark(ish) skin but always, always the Barbie I got had the inevitable waist length, swishy straight hair.

Vintage Barbie

I grew up believing that Barbie was the ideal beauty and that black was indeed beautiful but only if black was simply white with black skin. I coveted long straight hair that I could brush like I brushed Barbie’s and when I was six I got my first relaxer and I was thrilled, I brushed it and I swished it and I felt beautiful. When I was nine I was almost bald from the chemicals and had to have my dry, broken hair cut to near army specifications.  When it grew to an inch or so I was told that I would finally be able to get another chemical, the Jheri Curl. My mother and her hairdresser told me that this was the only way that they’d be able to “manage” my thick, kinky hair and I believed, trusted, that eventually I’d get my hair back to Barbie’s length and texture. Even though I had long since given up my Barbie dolls I desperately wanted to be considered beautiful, and so without thinking about it I began my quest for perfect, acceptable hair, for Barbie hair.

Barbie’s hair was straight, it was long, it was brush-able and it was pretty when I heard other girls speak of what was pretty  they often said “oh, her hair is so pretty, just like a dolly” I was indoctrinated and I didn’t even know it. I was 17 when I finally ditched my obsession with straight hair and embraced my kinky, nappy hair but it has been a struggle in the years since because society still places a premium on straight (or not kinky) hair and the process of indoctrination starts before we are even aware such things are affecting our young girls.

A few years ago Barbie got a makeover, her DD breasts (implants I think) were scaled back to a reasonable size and she got a little thicker in the middle (thank goodness because that 18″ waist was freaking me out) she acquired several black friends  in the forms of Kara, Grace, Chandra and Trichelle but even as she got a little soul, Barbie’s long hair still flowed straight down her back and little girls who were black like me still coveted her tresses. We had bought into the fiction that Barbie was selling, that long straight hair was beauty and that if we could pretend that it was growing out of our heads like Barbie that was even better. The mainstream black hair industry is built on this fiction and some of those little girls from my youth had grown up and were making the weave shops happy with the results of unaddressed indoctrination.

Warning! This video is Not Safe For Work (Language)

Well, now that we all feel a little dirty, I will say that I applaud Mattel’s efforts to make Barbies that actually look like black women although I remain disappointed that they are all apparently addicted to weave like liquored-up West Coast socialites. What to do about the issue? I recently decided to make a Barbie that I wished I had when I was five, Barbie with kinky hair almost like mine, with inky black skin like mine and with clothing and accessories that didn’t look like she’d just left the set of a Lil’ Wayne video.

Here she is straight out of the box with her swishy long hair

Before

and here she is with her pipe cleaner curlers

and with the curls

and finally with her new, fierce ‘fro  and wearing a one-shouldered shibori top and pearls.

After!

 

 

Kara is wearing Alexis Campbell Resort Wear 2012 Photo Credit: Risée Chaderton 2012

 

Chandra's hair by Hajar Mohammed of Hapi Loc Groomers and her outfit is by Ayeba Asher Photo Credit: Risée Chaderton

somebody is going to love her birthday gift!

Credits:

Alexis Campbell – clothing and accessories,

Christine Kumchy – Shibori  fabric (shirt)

*Ayeba Asher – Traditional African Clothing Designer

Leigh Weatherhead- Principal doll stylist

Adrian Charles: Lighting Assistant

Risée Chaderton – Photography, hair and styling

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8 thoughts on “Black like Barbie and Me

  1. What great writing! Thank you for sharing that.I

    I am caucasian and my best friend in grade school and junior high (we were literally blood sisters ) is African American. Neither one of us were wealthy, but she came from a white collar home while mine was blue collar. I was soooo jealous of her because every month or so, she got to go to the beauty shop. I wanted to be able to go to the beauty shop. She always looked so beautiful and put together.

    We still talk once in awhile now (it’s now been 30 years since we were best friends and we both went to different colleges, etc.) and I finally told her that I was so very jealous of her when we were growing up. She said, ‘I hated going to that beauty shop; it was so painful and my mom felt it was the only way to keep my hair manageable). I was floored. All those years, I thought she was having the time of her life.

    p.s. – The fierce ‘fro is my favorite.

    • Thank you, I really appreciate your comment. It makes me feel good when my words resonate with people. Thank you for commenting and sharing.

  2. I agree ten times over. Black women need more accurate representations of themselves in the media and black girls need dolls that look like them.

    Its the Barbies and the media that give girls their first idea of their image.

    OMG @ ‘liquored up West Coast socialites’. The image that came to me was immediate. 🙂

    • As an adult I can now recognise how much of a problem it is but by the time we reach adulthood there are years of damage to undo. I hope more mothers take up this flag and do these kinds of things for their kinky haired little girls and spend more time saying positive things about kinky hair. If it had been done for me perhaps I wouldn’t have enthusiastically chemically damaged my hair for ten years before deciding “no more!”, perhaps…

      re: “liquored-up West Coast socialites” I was told to always write what I know… 😀

  3. Your Chandra looks great! Loved this post, strangely I have done the same sort of makeover to a black doll recently myself. Black Barbies with long, straight hair are so disappointing. Apparently, Mattel`s excuse is that it “improves the play experience” because little girls like to brush hair. Very poor. Also quite shoddy – black Barbies with hazel, green and blue eyes but none with very dark eyes – even the So In Style girls and the black dolls from Barbie Basics, all contemporary ranges, tend to have light eyes.

    By the way – Mattel are going to release a Latina doll this year, apparently they plan to replace Chandra with her. And there is a range of dolls, Barbie sized, called Pretti Girls (or something like that) which features Latina dolls – created by the designers who made the So In Style dolls.

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