Now, Mattel launches new line of black Barbies

Not so kinky

The “So In Style” line features BFFs Grace, Kara and Trichelle, each with her own style and interests and a little sister she mentors: Courtney, Janessa and Kianna. The dolls reflect varying skin tones, and Trichelle and Kianna have curlier hair. Barbie designer Stacey McBride Irby, who is a black, said she wanted to create a line of dolls for young black girls that looked like them and were inspirational and career-minded. For example, Kara is interested in math and music.

Many black women are praising Mattel for its efforts — Black Barbie hit the shelves in 1980 with white features shared by many of the dolls following her. But some say the dolls with long straight hair are not “black enough” and do not address the beauty issues that many black girls struggle with. In the black community, long, straight hair is often considered more beautiful than short kinky hair.

Chris Rock highlights the issue in his ‘Good Hair’ documentary, which opens in select cities on Friday and shows black women straightening their tight curls with harsh chemicals and purchasing hair weaves. Irby said she originally designed all the dolls with long hair. Combing her Barbie’s long hair when she was a girl was the “highlight of my play experience,” she said.

There is a So In Style hairstyling set so girls can curl, straighten and style their dolls’ hair over and over. That is troubling to Sheri Parks, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park, because it actively involves girls in the process of straightening hair. Some black women are concerned about the dolls’ thin frames. Barbie has for years come under fire for promoting an unrealistic body image, with her long legs, tiny waist and large breasts.

Kumea Shorter-Gooden, co-author of “Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America,” believes Barbie has a more negative impact on black girls. They are already struggling with messages that “black skin isn’t pretty and our hair is too kinky and short,” she said.

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