The new "So In Style (S.I.S.)" Barbie dolls have been praised for their authentic African-American facial features and their spectrum of skin complexions -- but what's up with that hair? Only one of the three S.I.S. dolls ("Trichelle") has realistic, dark curls. The other two ("Grace" and "Kara") sport unnaturally long, wavy tresses that, in real life, would have to be weaves. And those cascading manes are so light that they almost look blonde. Two of the "little sister" dolls that are packaged with the S.I.S. Barbies (this is to encourage mentoring) have long, straight hair and the third has blonde curls.
Veteran Barbie designer Stacey McBride-Irby (a sister) says she created the So In Style dolls so that black children would have toys they can identify with and be inspired by. That's an admirable ambition, and the S.I.S. dolls do have some great qualities (ie: their aforementioned faces and the wide range of interests represented by their various props) but the Hollywood/music video hairstyles were a big mistake that undermines the purpose of these toys.
The vast majority of black girls have dark, thick, kinky hair. That is part of the unique, characteristic beauty that God gave our people. But Euro-centric culture has always hated black aesthetics and over the centuries our people have bought into the lie that white standards of beauty are superior to our own. Therefore, holding up straight, long, light-colored hair as the ideal of feminine attractiveness can make black girls feel inferior, excluded and ugly. The So In Style Barbies, despite their good intentions, play into this destructive scheme.
But, let's not beat up on the new black Barbies too much. They're just following a pattern that's been kept in place through media and marketing by our own people. For years, music videos and men's magazines created by black folks for black folks have promoted the straight-haired, light-complexioned sister as the pinnacle of loveliness and desirability - ignoring the fact that dark-skinned, kinky-haired sisters are equally gorgeous. So, even though I have issues with these new Barbies, it's kinda hard for me to get mad at a white toy company for being less conscious than some of us.
DISNEY DOES IT RIGHT
While some doll makers and music video directors have wrongfully overlooked the wide variety of beautiful blackness, the artists behind Disney's forthcoming animated fantasy "The Princess and the Frog" have gotten just right. Disney could've played it safe by giving Princess Tianna a café au lait complexion (the film is set in New Orleans, after all) and less obviously-black features, thus making her more immediately palatable to a mass white audience. Instead, they designed her with a rich chocolate skin tone, textured ebony hair and wonderfully full lips making Tianna unapologetically and gorgeously black.
"The Princess and the Frog" breaks new ground as the first major animated feature with an African-American lead. But Disney has actually been at the forefront of multi-racial casting on kids' television for years. While The CW, Fox and MTV have been serving up teen-targeted shows with overwhelmingly white casts ("Gossip Girl," "90210," "The OC," "The Hills," "One Tree Hill," "Dawson's Creek," etc.) Disney Channel's been giving us deliberately diverse shows like "The Famous Jett Jackson," "That's So Raven," "The Cheetah Girls," "Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior," "Corey in the House," "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," "The Suite Life on Deck," "Wizards of Waverly Place" and, of course, the ridiculously-successful "High
School Musical" movies. Even before most of those shows, way back in 1997, Disney presented "Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella," the gloriously multi-racial TV musical produced by Whitney Houston (who also played the Fairy Godmother) and starring Brandy as Disney's first African-American princess.
"Cinderella" blew the lid off the ratings when it debuted on ABC back in '97. Families from every demographic got excited about the movie in spite of - or, perhaps, because of - the beautiful rainbow of performers who brought the story and songs to life. I'm optimistic that the public will embrace Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" with that same kind of enthusiasm.
Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents. THINK! IT AIN'T ILLEGAL...YET!