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Grace and Courtney

Mattel just unveiled its newest collection of Barbies: the So in Style (S.I.S.) collection. Created by an African-American designer, the dolls are meant to be more culturally relevant to young multi-ethnic girls in their fashions, facial features and hairstyles with inspiring hobbies.

"I want them to be examples to real girls," says Mattel designer Stacey McBride-Irby.

The dolls come in pairs with a big and little sister to encourage mentoring relationships. While we applaud the cute dolls - Grace and Courtney, Kara and Kiana and Trichelle and Janessa - most still look like a darker shade of Barbie. Only one of the three adult dolls, Kara, has natural hair, while the other two sport long, stick-straight 'dos. And out of the three little sisters, only one has a textured style - afro puffs - while the rest have straighter styles.

Trichelle and Janessa

Barbie has come along way since she first was conceived 50 years ago by Ruth Handler, who founded Mattel in 1944 with husband, Elliot and Harold "Matt" Matson. Handler was bucking a post-World War II trend of paper dolls and baby dolls by creating a fashion doll, whcih she named after her daughter, Barbara.

The early Barbie's measurements were unattainable. In 1989, a Barbie Liberation Organization was formed by a group of activists who objected to Barbie's unrealistic figure and her superficial consumerism.

And Barbie definitely lacked ethnicity, even when they were meant to be black or Hispanic. The company simply took the Barbie mold and hair and gave the doll darker skin.

The new dolls are a definite improvement over Mattel's previous attempts. But they still fall slightly short, falling back on what is more socially acceptable and reinforcing old standards of beauty that have changed dramatically as our society becomes more multicultural.

Kara and Kiana

The dolls have gotten mixed reviews from the African-American community.

"The S.I.S. dolls are just another example of how America loves to see American-Americans: as white as possible," says About-face.com. "Of course many black women do have hair like this, but most don't grow it that way naturally. There are six different dolls - why not six different kinds of hair? To me, this lack of representation just reaffirms the notion that 'nappy' or 'kinky' hair is bad, while promoting long, sleek hair as the most (or only) beautiful option."

Blogger Raven Hill writes on Jezebel.com: "Hair can be a complicated subject for black women, and it would be sad for any little girl to feel as if her texture wasn't desirable or represented."


0 Comments
I think they did a good job, not the best but good. Black people are not all one skin color and as much as we love and try to embrace our natural beauty the majority of African American women don't. I have natural hair and I'm a minority everywhere I go. Even white spanish and black women who have looser curl types get relaxers because it's become a cultural thing. This represents what most women of color look like. All different shapes and shades. The majority have relaxers. This is what little girls see when they look at older women and their friends who have relaxers. My mom relaxed my hair at 5. It may not be the reality everyone wants but it is a reality. Not to mention this image was created by a black women. It's impossible to represent every single African American with 3 sets of dolls. You need millions to do that. So, give Barbie some credit here. Don't shoot it down because all the barbies dont have fros and curls! Besides barbie's not the problem. It's the actual human role models girls see. I don't know about everyone but I always wanted to look like a real person (ex Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, JLo, Christina Milian, Kirsty Alley and Julia Roberts-nt always for their eitha!) not a plastic toy!
I agree so much with NubianPrize! This is what makes us not accept our hair and unique facial features! Other non white groups are look at as exotic and pretty because or their unique features but ours aren't "good enough." Kinda why I'm a little worried about going natural....but I'm going to!!!!
Same old same old. Take a white featured doll & give it dark skin. Show disrespect for African American supercurly hair by giving the dolls straight or wavy hair. That tells every little black girl with kinky curly hair that her hair is so awful it isn't worth putting on a doll & that black people are only considered worthy or acceptible if they don't have that hair texture.Then you wonder why many AA mothers start perming their girl's hair when they're as young as 4 or 5 so that when they get to be teens & young women they're losing their hair & by middle age they have almost none left.This is nothing but bigotry in disguise.
I think it's great that they are trying to reach out to the free market in this. However, would like to point out that no Barbie looks like any real person. It would be difficult to attain those perfect measurements of the actual Barbie doll. I think Barbies are great for little girls to play with and encourage them to be creative and use their imaginations, however I also think that parents need to actually teach and talk to their children about living happy healthy lives and not wishing they were like a Barbie doll. As far as healthy goes, meaning to show them with the proper exercise they will be very satisfied with how they look and they will be happy and live a longer life knowing they eat the right foods and get the right exercise to maintain a happy healthy life. Happy meaning they can be anything that they they want to be as long as they work hard for it and are willing to face challenges to get that far instead of having everything easily handed to them.
What I personaly find distasteful is the roles they put them in--the Rihanna and Beyonce' look alikes are doing things cultured and idependent--while the more attainable Kara doll seems to be a little less than a single teen mother--she's so domestic comparaed to the other lighter and straighter haired dolls. Mixed message much? But overall I'm almost glad that they don't represent multicultural women well--Barbie is a shallow, superficial beauty standard that all little girls think they can attain at one time or another. (I used to play with Barbies, but once I go to the Tween stage of my life I did'nt know why I did'nt look just like Barbie--tall, thin, ect.,)Besides, overall Barbie does'nt represent any women very well period. White, black, Hispanic, Native american, Indian, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Asian, Biracial, or Multiracial. While it's not worng to play with Barbies, it is limiting to play with Barbies.
Courtney looks to be South Asian and Janessa seems representative of many mixed race Latinas and part white/part African American girls. I agree that the adult dolls, except for Kara (who I assume to be of multiracial heritage), don't represent the hair that many AA women have naturally, but I think people forget that the only dark, nonwhite people in the US aren't just AA. So at least the dolls represent some little girl today, although I know they're marketed to AA. It would be nice too to have dolls that show the diversity of AAs today.
Does anyone remember Magic Curl Barbie from the early 80s? I had her. She had really tight curls, and supposedly you could straighten her hair with some elixir she came with. I always left her hair curly, because that is what mine looked like. I wonder why manufacturers shy away from representing different hair types. I like how these new Barbies come in pairs, though. That sends a nice message.

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