Barbie Dolls became a toy chest must-have in 1959, but it was not until 1980 that young Black girls were able to see themselves represented in the form of a more visibly melanated doll. And we have a young, Black woman to thank for that.
At the age of 28, Kitty Black Perkins, a fashion designer, created the “Black Barbie” which opened the door for diverse storytelling through the lens of this beloved toy, allowing little girls to dream up endless scenarios around what they could achieve.
Despite the celebratory lens on National Barbie Day, we can’t dismiss the other historically controversial nature of the doll. More specifically, over the years many critics have connected the dots between self-esteem issues and the “perfect body type” as displayed through Barbie. The brand took notes. Recently, Barbie has revamped its approach to womanhood, beauty and purpose to fit an ever changing world that is filled with women who don’t look, think or act the same.
As stated on their website, “Barbie believes in the power of representation. Children’s early experiences shape what they imagine to be possible. It’s important for them to see themselves reflected in product and content and to be exposed to different skin tones, hair types, and abilities. Barbie recognizes the importance of representation and is committed to continuing to better reflect the world kids see today.”
In 2020, Barbie released a PSA about practicing anti-racism for young girls in light of the rise in protests and civil unrest seen throughout the country, further amplifying their commitment to diversity for all while starting with how they impact the lives of their youngest consumers.
Over a 60 year span, Barbie now represents everyday women, historical figures and significant moments. She has manifested popular Black stars, such as singer Brandy and actress Yara Shahidi (pictured above), as well as iconic Black figures such as Katherine Johnson, Diahann Carroll ,Gabby Douglass and Maya Angelou.
Today, Barbie serves as a reminder of the collective power of all women and the journey we are on for equity and inclusion.
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Savannah M. Taylor is a native of Springfield, MA, and a graduate of Syracuse University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies with a minor in Communication & Rhetorical Studies. Some of her many passions include storytelling through various mediums and bringing awareness to Black history and culture through the advocacy of the Black diasporic community. These passions led her to start her own initiative called The Silhouette Brand, a platform to provide access to resources, opportunity, and exposure for people across the African diaspora.