For any little girl, a Barbie Doll is a complicated gift because it is so completely unrepresentative of female bodies. Barbie is one of the mothers of negative body images. This is compounded when the child in question is Black. When a Black girl is given a Black doll with Eurocentric features and straight hair, what does it teach her but that she is not beautiful. Because beauty is one of the few sites of female power this can be extremely damaging.
Loanne Hizo Ostlie of Tabloach Productions has been retooling these dolls and selling them on Ebay. This dolls represent the various hair textures that Black women have. They also feature more Afrocentric styles. A child given this doll to play with, will not only learn to see herself as beautiful but understand that she has the right to claim the label of woman.
Mattel could have chosen to do this on its own but it had no interest in really creating a positive image of Black womanhood. Simply painting a White doll dark and using dark coloured hair, does not make it African American. We are not White people with a really dark tan. We have our own unique features and our own standards of beauty. Ostlie’s work is clearly ingenious and is an example of the ways in which Black women have always had to strive to ensure that positive images become part of our social discourse.