Barbie: Daring You to Be YOU!
Several years ago, I was engaged in a conversation about Barbie with a young girl of Dominican heritage. The young girl, with a beautiful caramel complexion and beautiful thick hair, was playing with her Barbie, which was given by her grandmother. I was a graduate student in Forensic Psychology at the time, and I just watched the psychology study on the Doll Test. I decided to ask the young girl, as she played with her blond haired and blue-eyed Barbie, would she like to play with a darker skinned Barbie. She told me, "No, porque ella es fea! La rubia es mas bonita". I was stunned that this little girl believed the darker toned Barbie was ugly, and the blond Barbie viewed as prettier. This young girl of African heritage felt that those of color were not as beautiful as the white, blond haired, blue-eyed doll. I turned to her grandmother to ask her about this, and she said the same thing. I was floored and thought to myself, "How is it possible that people who blatantly display their African heritage in their features could say that a doll that mirrored those same characteristics is considered "Fea" or "Ugly"!"
Further encounters with this young girl taught me that she was a part of a system of thinking that promoted an inferiority complex amongst those who did not fit into the look of the mainstream culture. The 'Black Power' Movement did not hit the area where her family lived in the Dominican Republic. Angela Davis and Pam Grier were not iconic figures promoting girl power and black pride in their neck of the woods. So it is understood that this grandmother and this young child still developed ideas that seem so foreign to me. Especially since I come from a Latin American family who is the complete opposite, promoting black consciousness within the family and the Latino community.
The United States is still light years ahead of many other countries in promoting racial diversity even with all of its' racial tensions that still exist. This promotion of cultural diversity is exemplified with these new Barbies and also one of my favorite Sesame Street episodes with Mando singing, "I love my hair" in Spanish. A new generation will grow to love and accept the cultural and physical diversity that exists worldwide because they are provided with toys and learning platforms that celebrate the differences that exist in human nature.
It is no secret that the love of diversity has skipped many countries and cultural backgrounds as many individuals demonstrate racial prejudices and discrimination practices. The lack of love for diversity that still exists in many nations is the reason I celebrate the 57-year evolution of Barbie to be a significant victory as these dolls help children to embrace the differences in size, shape, and cultural backgrounds. Little girls can play pretend with dolls who realistically demonstrate physical characteristics they see in their family members, friends, or in society. I believe that this is just the beginning of the evolution of acceptance of those features that make us unique beings. It may have taken 57 years; however, to me Barbie is saying, "I am Daring you to be YOU!"
For more information on the topic of "Blackness" in Latin America, check out the Youtube series "Black in Latin America" :