In June of 1952, German cartoonist Reinhard Beuthien introduced Bild Lilli, a curvy, classy, sassy, and independent cartoon character.
She was originally to be used as a “filler” in an issue of the newspaper, “Bild-Zeitung.”
Lilli became quite popular and soon a doll was constructed. Her eyes were painted in a “glancing” gesture, her earrings and shoes were molded on; her limbs attached from the inside with rubber bands and her hair was a cutout scalp attached by a metal screw.
In August of 1955, the first dolls were marketed in Germany and eventually made their way to the United States.
The first “Barbie” was introduced in March of 1959. Mattel based their design of the doll on the Bild Lilli doll eventually buying the rights to Lilli and stopped production.
By the end of her first year, over 350,000 dolls were sold. It wasn’t until 1980 that Mattel introduced “Black Barbie” using the earlier head mold of “Steffie”, an earlier rendition of Barbie.
Her hair was a curly, tuft/afro and she wore a red gown.
Another “Black Barbie” was produced in 1985 featuring a similar hair texture, but not again until 2001 when a “South-African” collectable was presented, and then back to the straight hair.
Today, 2012, a new Barbie style has arrived; the “S.I.S.” (So In Style) and “S.I.S. Locks of Looks.” All of the Barbies and the one male of this collection are African American. They are featured with wider noses and fuller lips. You’d think at first, “Awesome! Finally some variety”, right?
In the simplest of terms, no.
As the story goes, Barbie was friends with a girl named Grace, whose family moves from California to Chicago, where she meets the rest of the “So In Style” Barbies.
Darren, Grace, Trichelle, Chandra and Marisa are all wearing Rocawear, Darren in big baggy jeans.
The “So In Style Locks of Looks” feature three dolls, Kara, Trichelle (again) and Grace (again).
These dolls come with vibrantly colored weaves, oil sheen, grease, spritz, and a pair of scissors.
The only one with Afro-textured hair is Trichelle, who, once she goes from “S.I.S.” to “S.I.S. Locks of Looks” has straightened hair.
Each of the dolls comes with a little sister except for Darren, who has a little brother, Julian.
Chandra is paired with Zahara, Trichelle with Janessa, Kara with Kianna, and Grace with Courtney. The little girls are also pictured with big, brightly colored hair, tutus, and tank tops.
Here’s the problem. I understand that African American children need to see dolls depicting lifestyles that they can relate to.
What, I must ask is this saying about the lives that we as African Americans live? Lives of frivolity, falsities.
Ironically if you visit the website for Barbie and click “Sisters and Friends” (which is where the S.I.S. collection can be found) you find the characters lead normal lives. Darren is on the debate team, Kara is a violinist, and Chandra is an aspiring actress!
These things however are not on blatant display for the viewer to see. When looking at the characters, it is the weave, grease, and baggy pants that are highlighted for our children to emulate.
This isn’t something I would support nor would I buy this doll for my goddaughter.
But, hey, it’s just my opinion.