"Black Barbie"


1967 Barbie.jpg1967 Francie.jpgBarbie__black1.jpg
While reading Banu Subramaniam's Snow Brown and the Seven Detergents I began to think about how white America constructs and enforces these ideas that one must "wash away" their cultural identity to fit into an ideal American stereotype. Even as we claim to be a melting pot of diversity, we still expect everyone to meet patriarchal norms in terms of language, appearance, and even knowledge. I believe that this reinforcement starts very young and can even spawn from the toys that we are given as children. Naturally I turned to the always demonized and yet oh so popular female figure, Barbie. While she is commonly attached for her unrealistic dimensions and inferior career choices, I would like to look beyond that. While researching Barbie's illustrious history I was struck by the fact that only last year did Mattel design a "black Barbie" ( yes that is her actual title) that actually fit the standard body type and facial characteristics of African American women. Mattel released "colored" Francie in 1967 she was from the same mold as Barbie, meaning she had white facial characteristics and a white body shape. She was an exact replica of Barbie just made out of darker plastic. My question to you is how do toys help reinforce cultural molds and the loss of ethnic culture?


In response to your question, I think the toys children play with at a young age do influence and shape their views on the world and reflect the culture they grow up in. I feel like everything children come into contact with help to reinforce the cultural “norms” of that time period, television, music, video games, other children. However, I feel like the toys they play with also play a big role in helping learn the culture they are from, even the negative stereotypes that exist within every culture.

The Barbie Doll plays a major role in many youth girls lives. “Barbie” is an icon to youth. However, as we grow up we realize, is Barbie realistic to anyone’s facial characteristics or body type? I personally have never met a white person with eyes as large or a nose and mouth as small as the “white Barbie” has. To say that the first black Barbie doll was made with the same “white” head mold but just with a darker plastic is assuming that most white people would relate to having the same facial characteristics as “white” Barbie, which at least in my case is not true.

The large eyes, small nose, disproportionate waistline, all these things are characteristic of Barbie herself, not a reflection of the shade of skin she has. Barbie is a toy designed for children to play with not for children to shed their identity and culture in order to be exactly like her.

I definitely think that toys reinforce culture molds!

I've been a Barbie fan since I was a little girl. I never knew that the physical mold of the "black Barbie" was actually correct until last year! That's really shocking to me!

When I was younger, I was so into Barbies that I got them for every single holiday. I had quite the collection! And as a child I had definitely developed biases amongst my collection.

1. I had a Barbie with a rubbery waist that made her easier to move. She also had large hips/thighs, much larger than the other Barbies I had. I rarely played with her. Even though her face was exactly the same as the other Barbies and her hair was the same, her big legs made her different. I didn't like that she had to wear special clothes.

2. I received a Barbie with dark hair (I have dark hair) and a white complexion. I didn't even play with that Barbie very much because she wasn't "Barbie," she was...Tiffany? I think? and she just wasn't Barbie. She was the background friend.

3. Towards the tail end of my collection I got a Bratz doll. Now that doll didn't even stand a chance. She had a different face, different body shape, everything was different. I think I might have played with her once.

In my buying of Barbies, I don't even recall seeing a Barbie with ethnic outfits on. I don't remember ever seeing a Barbie with a distinguishable heritage from a distinguishable region. But then again, I don't think I would have ever looked for that. I wanted THE BARBIE; not her friend, not a look alike, not a Bratz doll, BARBIE!!

I also grew up in a highly, highly Norwegian school. At the time I entered kindergarten, I was the only student in my class with dark hair. I remember coming home to my mom and asking what went wrong with my hair. I also remember that I tried to "dye" my dark hair with yellow marker. I'm not sure if this is because of all the kids having blond hair, all of the toys I played with having blond hair, or the culmination of the two. I just know that I wanted to look like that.

I think as children grow up there's a strive to be included into the niche. If there's a physical or cultural difference between the children you hang out with or the people you idolize, you'll focus on that difference. I think if a child idolizes a cultural influence, such as Barbie, there's definitely going to be at least some focus on why the child is different from the cultural toy. This doesn't mean the child will completely abandon all ethnicity to be like that person/toy, although the differences will always be apparent.

I believe that the toys children play with absolutely reinforce culture molds. I was a fan of Barbie growing up and wished that I could look like her. She had beautiful blond hair, she was extremely thin, and always had perfect-looking Ken at her side.

Although the physical mold of the black Barbie was not correct until last year, I feel that the white Barbie does not have a correct physical mold either. If Barbie were a real woman she would have to crawl and would be over 8 feet tall. Her neck would be so thin that she would have to choose between eating and breathing. Mattel has recently given Barbie a larger waist, but that still does not make up for her arms that are too small to hold all of her bones.

Barbie is a work in progress. There are plenty of other toys for children to play with that send out a better message. It is the parent's job to raise their child knowing that all people are different and beauty comes in all forms. An involved parent has the power to let their child understand that people come from different backgrounds and that even though people may look different, they could have very similar personalities and character.

I would agree that the toys that children play with help reinforce cultural molds. Barbie is probably the worst of all of them when it comes to brainwashing kids into thinking the doll is an 'ideal' woman. Not only is her figure ridiculously unrealistic, but until recent years, the typical careers of Barbie used to just consist of things like a flight attendant, cheerleader, ballerina, model, nurse, or maybe even a princess! Now they have careers that aren't so gender stereotyped like doctors, dentists, military positions and presidents.
Barbie also encourages the idea that white is the best race- all the main dolls are white and there are much fewer black ones- Barbie's 'friends.' These toys set up expectations in children early that you have to look a certain way and behave a certain way to be accepted in our society. While Barbie is not the only toy guilty of grinding these ideals into children's heads, in my opinion she is the worst.

I agree that the toys children play with can influence their ideas about culture. I really enjoyed bradl215's comments about how Barbies influenced her. I do not think she is alone in that. Although I did have a Japanese Barbie growing up, but she was basically a white Barbie with black hair and a kimono.

However, I think at this point, it is common knowledge that Barbie could not survive as a real woman. Yet, we continue to love her, defend her, and buy her for future generations of children. I think Barbie is great, I loved my Barbies when I was little, her and her friends allowed me to express my creativity with their never ending outfits and different possibilties for where they were hanging out this week.

I think the biggest problem with Barbie is not her lack of cultural sensitivity, although the story about the "black Barbie" is appalling, but her adherence to gender "norms" and that she is heteronormative I find are her bigger faults. Barbie portrays only one type of woman and she always is with Ken, one type of man. Although her jobs have changed with the times, she still tends to have jobs that are traditional women's roles, such as flight attendant or nurse. I think we, as a society, have a long way to go before we have a non-heteronormative Barbie, or a Barbie couple of two women.

To get back to the original problem of having a "Black Barbie", however, what does everyone think about that fact that her hair is straight?

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This page contains a single entry by wagne423 published on October 13, 2010 12:35 PM.

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