/// 09 October 2009 ///

Yesterday, the cast of The View talked about the So In Style® dolls. I didn't see it, but I heard that - in addition to Joy Behar saying they still look "anorexic with breast implants, no hips and built like skinny girls" (has she actually seen the current body sculpting? ) - they regurgitate the same PR information everyone else has been tossing around for months (yup, again with the "cheek bones" ), but also complained about their hair.

I've never been a fan of "The View", but I'm always glad to know I'm not the only person who's bugged by the dolls' hair.

Someone must have hit ABC up for some PR, because they also posted a news story about the dolls.

There are couple of bothersome things in it. Most egregious is the statement that the So In Style dolls are

"a far cry from Christie[®], Barbie's black friend who debuted in the 1960s and was essentially a white doll painted brown".

I already talked about Christie (it's somewhere on that page, I promise ), and, as I pointed out (using very similar words), this statement is literally exactly the opposite of the truth. You can call me "high strung", but it gets on my nerves just as much as it did when I wrote about it the first time - partly because that tidbit of misinformation has to be coming from somewhere.

Christie was not "a white doll painted black": She was an ethnic head sculpt on an existing body, exactly like the So in Style dolls. However, she had one thing the So In Style dolls lack: Ethnically-correct hair in the form of a short, curly "afro" hairstyle.

The perpetual dissing of Christie, Diahann Carroll as Julia, Shani®, the many other black dolls Mattel has produced - and (by extension) the people who worked on them - is not cool.

But I'm glad to see attention being drawn to the So In Style Stylin' Hair™ assortment's indirect reinforcement of the foregone conclusion that hair straightening is an integral part of most black women's beauty regimen.

It's great to see the issues surrounding African hair texture in Western culture coming to light (despite the lame soundbite-friendly buzzword-ification of the phrase "good hair" ), and the So In Style line is an excellent example of how ingrained the idea that caucasoid and mongoloid hair are somehow "preferable" to negroid hair has become.

It's also important to look at the "positive" aspects mentioned in the ABC article - the same ones that come up every time someone reports on these dolls. They're constructive, but most of them are hardly unique to black people. Character traits aren't race-specific. For example,

  • Anybody can be a "mentor" - it has nothing whatsoever to do with racial heritage;
  • "Education" is a "value" in every community, not just "black communities";

Physically, the dolls have relatively dark skintones - which is certainly a defining characteristic of people with African ancestry, but it's not totally unique to them. Lots of people whose ancestors lived in areas with high levels of sun exposure have "dark" skintones.

However, Afro-textured hair is a unique, defining physical trait for most people with significant levels of ethnically African ancestry. It's great that the characters' personalities contradict some of the baseless negative stereotypes directed at black people - but, why avoid one of the physical traits that is so uniquely and unequivocally black?

That's why it's bittersweet to read children's responses to the dolls - like the woman in the ABC article whose daughter said "She looks like me!" Unless her daughter has silky straight brown hair, chances are the doll she was talking about doesn't look as much like her as it could. It's a start, but there's definitely room for improvement.

Hopefully all the commentary about "good hair" issue will influence future releases in the So in Style line - which, like all toys (and forms of children's entertainment in general) is uniquely poised to erode some of the harmful preconceptions and that exist in our culture.

In fact, hopefully it won't be long before segregated toy lines like So In Style are deemed unnecessary, and Grace®, Trichelle®, Kara®, Chandra®, Darrin®, and their little "siblings" can join Barbie and her friends.

A far-away computer doohickey thinks these entires might be related:
   • SIS - Website Updates....and More Dolls?
   • So in Style® - Stylin' Hair™...and Confusin' Names
   • So In Style® Rocawear Tie-In
Doll Diary 09 October 2009