African American Barbie Dolls that Broke Barriers

Barbie gets a lot of heat nowadays. People shout at her for her figure. They complain about her plastic perfectness and general lack of realism. But they forget just how pivotal Barbie has been in helping challenge barriers in society. For example, the first African American President Barbie was released in 1992 – 16 years before Barack Obama took office.

1992 Barbie for President African American Doll

In 1992 Barbie released the Barbie for President African American doll. It took the United States another 16 years to elect one… a male one. Yay, Barbie, setting out good messages everywhere!

1985 African American Astronaut Barbie…and in 1994

In 1988 Dr. Mae Jemison completed astronaut training, as the first female African American astronaut for NASA. But Barbie was three years ahead of her with their African American Barbie doll astronaut…and then they released another doll in 1994. Each astronaut helmet had a white helmet and included an American flag. Because the All American Doll is any color.

1986 Super Hair African American Barbie Doll

Black women have a troubled relationship with hair, and though the natural hair movement and “natural Barbie dolls” today are going someway to help, it’s still not perfect. Barbie didn’t get it quite right when she debuted the Super Hair African American Barbie doll in 1986 as the hair texture was pretty standard, but the fact that Mattel accepted that women of color might need to have different styling choices and styles was HUGE for the time. The doll came with barrettes to put hair in twists and rolls, and while the hair looks like standard doll hair, we give props to Mattel for recognizing the diverse audience.

2009 Barbie So in Style Range with Real Features

Barbie Dolls have always had official Mattel African American versions made, but often, they just changed the skin and hair color, forgetting about differences like features. Mattel designer Stacey McBride-Irby changed this in 2009 with the Barbie “So In Style” line. These Barbie’s featured wider lips, bigger noses and more pronounce cheekbones- features often associated with many African American women.

“My dolls are different because they give parents and girls a variety of skin tones and facial features to choose from within an African American fashion doll. The dolls also have features that little girls can relate to while playing and dreaming up stories,” Stacey said to Black News.


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