Mattel Falls Short With S.I.S (So In Style) Line Black Barbies

by Guest Contributor Seattle Slim, originally published at Happy Nappy Head

While checking out Bossip, I saw a link to an article at HipHopWired about Mattel’s new line of black Barbies, S.I.S or So InStyle.

You already know I was hesitant to get my hopes up, and that hesitation was warranted.

I am not one to complain about any and everything. However, as someone who would’ve sold my little brother and my first born child for the newest Barbie when I was a wee lass, I expected Mattel to come better than this. You know why? Because I know they can do better.

When I was about 13 years old, my mom bought me Barbie’s special edition Kenyan Barbie from their their Dolls Around the World collection. My mom didn’t give a damn what I did with the other “chocolate” covered Barbies. She cared about this one, and she was and still is prized. She was the first Barbie doll that I felt accurately reflected my features and aesthetics. Sure, I had black and white Barbies, but they all looked like the white Barbies, except for her.

I was so excited that Mattel had put in that work. I always hoped they would strive to make black Barbies look, well, black. It never really happened, as those Barbies always had something that “exoticized” them.
I remember looking at one of them and thinking, “Okay…so she must be mixed then?” It was alright, I guess. My grandfather has blue eyes, and he’s very dark-skinned, so I figured the Barbies had the same background as him.  However, I do not have blue eyes. I didn’t have long, wavy hair that had little no kink in it (unless I relaxed of course). Naturally, black Barbie’s appearance was something that stuck with me, and I wished I could look more “other” than I really was.

Trichelle (pictured above) is the one doll that has what could be considered natural black hair, but they couldn’t keep it going, and changed her eye color to hazel and lightened her skin.

Kara (pictured above) has the skin tone, but has what would be the equivalent of a busted ass, Celebrity Seaborn wig. I don’t EVEN want to get into what’s off with her little sister…

Grace and her sister (above) look good, but then again, their eyes indicate that they are somehow mixed with something, adding to their not quite black “otherness.”


This is why I am glad I have boys, although, the situation sucks for them too, because Batman, Superman, and all the other “toy men” don’t usually look like them.

Mattel, you disappoint me. What was wrong with giving these dolls from your S.I.S line natural hair, dark brown eyes, and features that fit with most of the particular demographic, black girls, that you are looking to cater to?

If you guys think that these dolls don’t mean shit, might I kindly ask you to check out the Doll test?

You should not be lauded for this, Mattel. I appreciate you thinking of us and all, but you dropped the ball on this.

Even if you wanted to keep these dolls, that’s fine. I’ve already described my grandfather and family history here. Where is MY doll? Where is the doll with the Afro? Where is the doll with twists? Where’s the doll with the lowboy? Where’s the doll with the dark brown eyes, and the flatter nose, and the voluptuous lips?  Where’s the doll that has all of those things, not just some? Where’s the doll for little girls that look like me?

Let me be more clear, these dolls (except for Kara’s crazy lace front) are not terrible. I think they are actually perfect for little girls who have a mixed background. These pretty much cover a broad aesthetic and look like plausibly like someone with mixed heritage.  In that respect, these dolls are perfect!

However, for the little black girls that look just like ME with unmistakably Afrocentric features, these dolls appeal to the tried and totally untrue, but respected, hip-hop beauty ideal that has become an “exotic girls only” industrial complex. So not only are young girls bombarded with those images on television, if their parents aren’t careful, they are basically kicked while they’re down walking through the toy store.

The message is clear to little girls, and it’s saddening because they will go on to feel this more acutely as they get older. The message is unless you are “exotic” or multi-racial, you are simply and utterly unremarkable, unworthy and unimportant. They may make a doll with more Afrocentric features, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Little girls will then inevitably draw conclusions that they are not good enough, because they are not pretty enough. You must be multi-racial (or have some indication that you have some “white” or “Cherokee” in your family), with light eyes and long flowing, loose-curly (3A) hair as a minimum.

Should Mattel somehow make things right, I implore them to give said black Barbie, NATURAL hair. Yes, I said it.

For years, before I gave in and begged my mother to relax my tresses, I would comb my Barbies’ hair and covet the hell out of their plastic hair plugs. Hell, it was long and flowing and straight.

Barbie=Beautiful, so therefore, Barbie’s Hair=Beautiful was my equation.

I imagined that my hair, if “treated,” could grow long and semi-wavy, but kink-less, and I would be one step closer to being a Barbie, in my own right.

What was wrong with creating a Barbie with short, as close to natural hair as possible? Hell, if short is not your thing (and I know you can do it, because you have hairstylists for Barbies, Mattel), then why not a natural mane on, say for example, Kara?

Black women’s hair does not normally grow, or look, like one of Tyra’s gaudy lace fronts. Matter of fact, what I’ve seen in Seattle is anything but long and flowing, but rather, short, fried, sad and barely hanging on to scrunchies and hair bands. It is usually thin, with little volume, even if it may be long. I’ve seen weaves, I’ve seen braids with all kinds of colors. I’ve seen sisters with natural hair, like blowouts, cornrows, teenie weenie Afros (TWAs), locs, twists… The point is I have yet to walk down the street seeing black women, all sporting the same tired, ghastly, and patently unnatural weave or wig.

Do you even know what Kara would look like if she were a real human being?

I’m a firm believer in that indoctrination can bring whole groups of people and civilizations to their knees. These dolls are just one more tool in the indoctrination process that prizes and rewards self-hatred over knowledge of self, and love for self, in the black community.

Shame on you, Mattel. By intentionally leaving out a Barbie with natural Afrocentric features, you’ve basically given little black
girls who don’t match a multi-racial aesthetic in the least, a figurative middle finger.  Congratulations!

Barbie cannot have a flatter nose, Barbie cannot have natural hair, and she damned sure cannot have short, natural hair (GASP!). Barbie shall not be too ethnic, that’s not hot in these toy store “streets” I guess.  For Barbie to be pretty, she cannot be too black.  For Barbie to be feminine, her hair must not give any inclination that it might be “nappy.”  God forbid, she have shorter hair than her “down to her back” tresses…  That would make her a boy, I guess…

I urge parents to not fall for this, and urge you to not accept anything below the standard, because these dolls are way below
standard. Mattel has been around too damned long to put these dolls out, oblivious to the message they send. They are trying to get on the right track, but they need a hell of a lot more work to get to the goal of having fully inclusive black Barbies.

Again, we come in many shades and colors, with a plethora of features, but I seriously question Mattel’s motives for “excluding” a certain shade, with certain features.

Not GOOD enough, Mattel. Sorry to break it to you.

(Source and photos spotted at HipHopWired)

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  • Danielle

    I know that people don’t like Barbie’s but personally I believe they were a fun part of my life, I liked to imagine myself as these characters. But I never had one that looked like me for some reason stores in my area never carried an Asian Barbie, at least none that I could afford. There were some that were collector’s items but they were really pricey. I always was annoyed by that.