In the last entry, I didn't manage to get to the top thing that bothers me about the So In Style® dolls: Their hair.
Disclaimer: This is one of my soapbox-y subjects.
With the exception of Trichelle®, all of the So In Style dolls have hair that's either completely straight or "wavy". All of them also either have brown hair or black hair with brown streaks. (Kara®'s "little sister" Kianna®'s hair is curly, but in more of a Shirley Temple-y way.)
(Note: It seems that at one point, both Trichelle and Kianna were going to have much less curly hair than they do. I'll write about that another time.)
Such a big deal was made about the "correctness" of the dolls' facial features (nose and cheekbones, nose and cheekbones, nose and cheekbones - did I mention nose and cheekbones?) that it seems bizarre and totally incongruous for most of them to have "smooth", "silky" hair.
The fact is, most black women don't have hair that grows out of their heads "smooth" and straight. (Or brown, for that matter.) It takes work (and chemicals, sometimes pain, and occasionally danger) to get it that way. Like many businesses, a portion of the "black hair care" industry preys on a culture of self-hated that drives sales of chemical "relaxers", hair extensions, and lots of other products designed to take the African-ness out of black people's hair. These products can lead to permanent damage (traction alopecia from extensions, skin burns and hair loss from chemical "relaxers" - ever hear of the Rio "Hair Naturalizer" System? ). It's not always pleasant, but there's such a tremendous stigma associated with "nappy hair" in the United States (jobs can even be won or lost because of it) that for many people, the discomfort and risk of permanent damage are worth it.
Now, I'm not saying Grace's super-straight hair will cause a complete meltdown of society and lead to increased rates of chemical-relaxer-related injuries. I'm also not saying that there's anything wrong with a black person straightening or coloring their hair if they want to, that black people who choose to wear their hair "natural" are somehow "superior" to those who prefer to straighten it, or that all six So In Style dolls should have had tightly-curled, pitch-black hair. (Not all "black" people have black hair anyway.)
But, does it really make sense that in a group of six black females, only one has hair that remotely resembles traditional African hair texture, and none of them have hair that's completely black?
Side note: It also bugs me that hair coloring is getting more and more commonplace and is now almost expected of people - so this is a double whammy issue.
The toys kids play with do have an effect on the way they perceive the world. Although I totally applaud the accessibility of this line and the seemingly non-issue status of the characters' race, it's unfortunate that they (however indirectly) perpetuate the idea that in order to be "pretty", black women have to have straight hair - as well as the stereotype that black woman who are "into fashion" like the SIS girls (and who, by extension, "care about the way they look") straighten their hair.
Please note: I absolutely am not saying that there was an intentional decision to send this message. However, the limited range of hairstyles does endorse (however indirectly) the idea that straight, smooth hair is preferable to kinky, curly hair.
Granted, the hair issue is tricky. Hair play is a major factor in the appeal of fashion dolls, and kinky-curly hair doesn't allow the same options for hair play that straight hair does (which is, of course, one of the reasons so many real-life people with curly hair like to straighten it). When I was little, I just about drove myself crazy trying to straighten my Barbie and the Rockers™ Real Dance Action™ Diva® doll's kinky hair so I could "play" with it. (Luckily she survived. ) Tightly-curled hair reduces play value, and that could be expected to put a dent in sales.
However, there are other options for hair fibers with different textures that would represent the diversity of hair textures while still allowing "traditional" hair play patterns. (That's something I've been experimenting with on "customized" dolls for a few years.) The So In Style line would have been a perfect opportunity to explore new ideas.
(BTW, I wonder if the hair textures were always going to be the way they ended up? If you look at the "silhouette" logo at the top of the page [which you might assume was supposed to be Grace], you can see it obviously has very curly hair. And, like I said, at some point Trichelle and Kianna were photographed with much less curly hair than what they ended up with - maybe there was some disagreement about it?)
That's probably enough for now. There's still more stuff to talk about, but if I don't stop now... I'll keep going.
• More "Quintessential" Confusion - Quintessential Barbie® 2010
• Barbie®'s New Logo Isn't New
• Bathing Suit Barbie® Times Two
• Bathing Suit Barbie® Giftset at Target
• There goes that excitement.
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