"little sister" Courtney®
"little sister" Janessa®
"little sister" Kianna®
The So In Style® dolls are starting to arrive in stores (excluding, of course, the ones where I live ). I wrote (excessively) about some news articles reporting on the line here, but now we get to see what they look like.
The assortment consists of three adult characters, each of whom has a "little sister" that they "mentor" (which implies they're not actually related).
Grace® and Courtney® are into science and cheerleading (two words that don't get used next to each other very often ), Trichelle® and Janessa® are into journalism and art, and Kara® and Kianna® like math and music.
(That's right - one of the characters is named Kara, kind of like Barbie's black friend Cara from the 70's. I wonder if it's a coincidence? When the Happy Family™ Midge® and Alan® dolls came out, I really wished the black versions could have been called Cara and Curtis, so this is exciting to me. )
The "little sisters" aspect reveals a pun in the name of the line - the acronym "SIS" is also short for "sister". ("Sister" is also a slang term for a black woman, but I'm pretending to not think that was on purpose. )
I haven't seen them in person, but I'd have to say this line definitely isn't the militant racial equality statement and earth-shattering cultural watershed the news articles made it out to be.
They're cute dolls, and the characters happen to be black.
In fact, the product descriptions on websites like Toys "R" Us don't even mention the characters' race at all. This is in stark contrast to 1991's Shani® line, which was marketed primarily in terms of its "'ethnic'-ness". Making the characters' race a total non-issue is the best thing that could have been done with this line. (Hopefully I won't have to eat my words if the boxes say "They're Totally Black!" or something... ) Not only does it send a much more positive message and avoid any sense of "tokenism" - it also keeps the line from feeling as if it were targeted primarily to black children, which would be a terrible disservice to it.
I also really like the fact that the line isn't named after one of the characters. That's a fundamental, critical flaw of the Barbie® brand, and a big part of the reason MGA's Bratz® dolls became so popular.
Originally, I was disappointed that it seemed as though Grace was being singled out as the "main character" - but I don't think that's actually the case. The storyline is that Grace, who's a friend of Barbie's, moves from California to Chicago, meets some new friends, and gets involved in mentoring a little girl. It sounds like the only reason Grace is being singled out this way is to tie the line to Barbie - not because she's somehow "more important" than the other characters. This is another area in which Bratz completely trumped Barbie (there are no "main characters" in Bratz-land), and it's great to see the same thing being done with these dolls.
There is one thing about the storyline that bugs me: I don't think Barbie and the SIS characters should be categorically placed in specific states. Toys should "live" wherever the kid wants them to. (Of course, box copy usually doesn't have much of an effect on what kids do with their toys. )
As for the dolls themselves - I really like them a lot (and not just because 66% of them have pigtails ).
I am disappointed about a couple of things, though.
First, Grace, Kara, and Trichelle all have the same head. It's the 2001 "Mbili" sculpt, and that is one of my favorite heads - but, based on all the hype about their facial features in those news articles, I'd assumed they were all going to have new heads. At the very least, I didn't think they'd all have exactly the same face. (Although, the face designers did a good job of making them look like different people despite having the same head.)
This is too bad - I was really looking forward to some new faces, but if existing ones were going to be used, there are so many other ones that could have been used along with this one. Like, I would have loved it if one of the dolls had the rarely-used 2000 Adria sculpt, which sort of looks like the Mbili head but with an open-mouth smile. It was originally used on the black Barbie 2000 doll, and it's also one of my favorite heads. It's only been used a few times - in the playline, it was used for the That's So Raven Stylin' Hair™ doll, the black Happy Family™ Grandma dolls, and the ultra-rare Fashion Fever® Desiree®. I don't understand why it's hardly ever used.
And there are so many other cool options. Like, the 2000 Lea®/Kayla® sculpt makes a fantastic black doll (it was used on the black Sophisticated Wedding™ doll in 2002). Man - the possibilities are really exciting, which is why this is such a let-down.
Similarly, although Courtney, Janessa, and Kianna are unbelievably cute ( ), they all use the existing 1994 closed-mouth Kelly® sculpt. I love this head (a pattern seems to be emerging here... ), but it's the same as with the adults - there are so many other existing sculpts that they obviously didn't have to share one. (In fact, although it's probably not realistic, there are at least two Kelly heads that have never been put into production, and this would have been a perfect opportunity to finally introduce them. (Okay, technically I say that every time a new Kelly doll comes out because I want those heads. )
There's one thing about Grace, Trichelle, and Kara's head that amuses me, though. The first entry I wrote about So In Style (here it is again) was mainly me complaining about how the news articles extolling its virtues did so by unjustifiably bashing Mattel's 40-plus-year history of creating non-white play dolls. For example, see this comment (again) from this article:
"The [SIS] line differs from the company's prior releases of African-American toys, in part, because of its facial features. As an example, the toys have fuller lips and different cheek bone placement and nose structure.
Maybe it seems like I'm over-reacting, but Mattel has a history of designing black dolls with unique heads that really "look like black people", going all the way back to the first Christie® doll in 1968. That should be commended, not ignored.
So, there's some irony in the fact that the allegedly unique "facial features" publicized in the articles that supposedly "differ" from what's come before belong to an existing sculpt that's been around (and in constant use) for almost 10 years. I think that proves my point better than my way-too-many-words did.
Okay, even I think this is getting too long. There will be more complaining (and more trivial information) later.
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