So in Style: Barbie's Mixed Race Makeover

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The Supreme Court heard many arguments about the negative effects of racial segregation on children of color in the United States over 50 years ago in the landmark case Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s 1939 “Doll experiment” has become the symbol and lightening rod for thinking about how children develop racial and multiracial identity and consciousness in a world that often looks upon them with doubt. The Clarks showed four plastic, diaper-clad dolls, identical except for color. They showed the dolls to black children between the ages of three and seven and asked them questions to determine racial perception and preference. Almost all of the children readily identified the race of the dolls and identified with the black dolls. However, when asked which they thought was “good” or “nice colored” or preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. The Clarks proved that discrimination against children of color in the “real world” affected their senses of play, imagination and self-concept. An update done by Kiri Davis shows that things haven’t really changed.

Roughly twenty years after the first doll experiment, Barbie Millicent Roberts appeared in 1959 at the New York Toy Fair. Barbie’s creators, Ruth and Eliot Handler, realized the importance of having images that reflected children’s experiences and decided to fill a niche in the girls’ toy market for an adult-proportioned doll. In the 50’s however, Mattel catered to the majority white population. Over the years Barbie has been sold in 150 countries and appealed to girls worldwide. For instance, in 1980 Mattel launched the first Latina and African American Barbie dolls and since then has created dolls to represent 45 nationalities, including Japanese, Indian and Jamaican. As Mattel’s Barbie enters her second 50 years, and as racial demographics are changing, she’s gotten yet another makeover—enter the “So In Style” collection.

According to Mattel.Com, each doll has a unique personality and aesthetic and all are beautiful. Jayla, for example, is the ultra-feminine figure who enjoys science and cheerleading. Kara is a passionate mathematician and musician. Trichelle is feisty and intelligent. Chandra is charming and stylish and into fashion and photography. Each doll also has a designated “little sister” to accentuate the importance of being a role model. There’s even a boy named Darren, who enjoys sports and music and studies geography. All of these dolls are branded Fashionistas, dressed in clothing from Jay-Z’s Rocawear collection and coming with an “it” bag and bling.

So, why the change now? Though not without a fair share of controversy and deliberation, these mixed race dolls are a new experiment. Economic performance will tell whether they are sound business decision for Mattel based on changing demographics and the popular trend of ethnic ambiguity. Before now most “ethnic” Barbies have been white dolls dipped in paint–replete with skinny noses, dainty lips and long straight hair. These “So In Style” dolls, designed by Stacey McBride-Irby and inspired by her daughter’s experiences, are meant to reflect what some multiracial and (some African American) women actually look like. Finally, and most importantly, these dolls can help foster a larger cultural environment in which children can grow up mixed and happy.


another look

I looked at the site again today, did a search for
asian - nothing
african - many hits
chinese - nothing
hispanic - many hits
black - nothing
jewish - nothing
arabian - nothing
muslim - nothing
oriental - nothing...


-Diana Ani Stokely

ethnic barbies

the so in style collection is news to me. very interesting. i wonder how they will fare against the brat, liv, and moxie lines where the dolls are ethnically ambiguous but no where near as obvious? i wonder which demographic will like the dolls most. wouldn't it be wild if little white girls were the major purchasers b/c so in style barbie made them feel cool like rap music does for white boys? i mean, will their parents want them to play with darren? i can't wait to see the racial possibilities for this new toy!


Now if we can just get them to make "adult-proportioned" dolls that look like an actual realistic woman's figure.

New Barbie's

Do you by any chance have pics of what these new dolls look like?


Yes. I just posted one and more will be up soon. Thanks for asking :)