African-American Barbie: An Open Letter to Mattel

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African-American Barbie: An Open Letter to Mattel

To the makers of Barbie,

Barbie is a legend. For more than 50 years girls have been playing imaginatively with the long-legged beauty. Barbie survives and thrives in spite of feminist opposition to her unrealistic body proportions. She remains popular because you at Mattel combat the notion that she represents the objectification of women by making Barbie a career woman who doesn’t need any man to provide for her. She is a veterinarian, a doctor, a computer engineer. Barbie can be anything!  To your credit, you have even created multicultural Barbie dolls so that girls of color can see themselves as beautiful, independent career women (with fabulous wardrobes, cars, and mansions!)

You even made Barbie a major motion picture hero—fighting evil and sticking up for the underdog—in a series of animated films that bring her to life.  My daughters absolutely love the Barbie movies! I watch with them and truly enjoy watching Barbie befriend the downtrodden, overcome significant obstacles, and end up happily ever after. Barbie is entertaining and inspirational in her movies and I love the way my daughters get the opportunity to see an animated example of such a strong young woman.

I want my girls to really believe that they can be as strong as Barbie is in her movies, and I always encourage them to engage in imaginative play. So, despite her unrealistic proportions, I agree to buy my daughters Barbie dolls. My girls are biracial (mixed–black and white.) I love the fact that I can find dolls with their skin tone in the Barbie aisle at my local store. I love the fact that there are multicultural versions of the Barbie heroes from the movies—African-American Barbie as Rapunzel; African-American Barbie as the Princess or the Pauper; African-American Barbie as the Sugarplum Princess in the Nutcracker.  I look forward to a time when the Barbie movie dolls will be sold in Asian and Latina styles, too.

It was a pleasure to buy each daughter the African-American version of a Barbie from the movies as gifts. I really looked forward to them opening their packages, knowing that they would love the dolls because they love the movies so much.

When they opened their gifts, though, they weren’t jumping for joy. Instead they were confused. “This isn’t Rapunzel! Mommy, the box says Rapunzel but Rapunzel has blonde hair! This must be a bad version of Rapunzel! Is she evil? Rapunzel–the good girl–is white!”

Despite your best efforts, Mattel, you have not really succeeded in making Barbie a role model for all girls. Until you feature a Barbie of color in all aspects of your merchandising—including animated films—you are perpetuating an age-old stereotype; a stereotype that casts white people as heroes and black people as those who are either evil, in need of saving, or invisible. Until you feature girls of all races and ethnicities you are not really empowering girls; you are dividing them. And in some cases you are lessening their sense of self-worth, their sense of pride in their heritage. Please, help my daughters and other young girls of color to see themselves as heroes, too.

Sincerely,

Jen Marshall Duncan

 

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Jen Marshall Duncan

Jen Marshall Duncan has been in an interracial relationship for almost 20 years. She and her husband have three biracial children ages 8-12. She lives in a diverse college town in Iowa, and is a high school teacher working with kids who have behavioral issues and/or are at risk of dropping out. Her goal is to spread the power of empathy–recognizing and sharing the feelings of others.
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Comments

  1. says

    I actually sent a link for this open letter to the Mattel Corporation and received an email response from them. The copyright notice at the bottom of their email says that I cannot copy, distribute or use the information they gave me for any purpose. Trade secrets…

    Without risking any trade secrets, I can tell you that it wouldn't hurt for the Mattel Corporation to hear from more concerned parents! If you'd like to share your thoughts on Barbie products, movies, or any other Mattel toys, this is the email address that sent me the response: ConsumerServiceCenter@fisher-price.com    And this is the address where I originally sent the link to this MF post:  corporate.communications@mattel.com

  2. says

    Thanks for your letter!  I agree with you that they definitely STILL have a LOONNNG road ahead. Having said that, I rather have my daughters watched the Barbie movies than the Disney princess movies. My daughter also thinks she wants to be a Musketeer and save the prince or that she can be a fashion designer. But it DOES annoy me that in the Iphone game APP for example, none of the featured Barbies are black or look remotely Hispanic.

    • says

      That iPhone app thing is a good example! I think Mattel tries to do the right thing, but they just fall short. I hope they hear from more parents and decide to finish what they've started by including multicultural characters in their APPs and movies. I love that your daughter wants to save the prince! You go, girl :)

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