I’ll never forget the first time I asked for a black Barbie doll.
I must have been about six years old. I was in a Zellers department store with my dad and he was on a mission to find me a black Barbie. Together we must have searched the entire toy department, scanning the dozens of different Barbies laid out meticulously on the department store shelves.
Depending on who you asked, they might have said there were in fact a wide variety of dolls. Some had blonde hair, some brown, some black. There were princess Barbies, surfer Barbies and even celebrity Barbies. But in the midst of this “variety” there were absolutely no black Barbies.
Eventually, a store employee walked by and my dad stopped him to ask whether the store sold any black Barbies.
“No,” the employee said, a smile on his face. “But I could paint one for you.”
While it was the last time the employee would make a comment like that (he was soon after fired), that moment would go on to become one of my first memories in which I realized I was different. There were no Barbies that looked like me when I was a child. Barbie was always white and beautiful, having blue eyes and long, straight hair. And while Mattel (the company that makes Barbie) has managed to diversify its collection over the years, gradually incorporating black dolls like “Asha” in 1991 and “Oreo Fun Barbie” in 1997, the majority of these dolls continued to be made with mostly white features.
But my, have times changed.
Recently, Mattel unveiled the “Zendaya Barbie,” inspired by the young actress and the style she wore to the Oscar’s this year. Dressed in a white gown with faux locs, Zendaya’s look made headlines that evening after her look was inappropriately criticized by E!’s Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic who suggested the actress likely smelled of patchouli oil or weed, (you can read Zendaya’s epic clapback here).
And this praise is rightly due. Zendaya’s Barbie is much more than just another doll. Its 11.5-in frame is a symbol of awareness. It tells young girls there’s nothing wrong with being different and staying true to who you are. And most importantly, it’s a much needed reminder to little black girls everywhere that their black is indeed beautiful.
On Instagram, Zendaya posted a side-by-side photo of her Barbie and the Oscar’s look that inspired it all. She captioned the photo:
“When I was little I couldn’t find a Barbie that looked like me, my…how times have changed. Thank you @barbie for this honor and for allowing me to be apart of your diversification and expansion of the definition of beauty. Can’t wait to keep doing amazing things with you😘😘😘#besuper@luxurylaw@theshelbyswain“
Somewhere in the world, Giuliana Rancic is feeling mighty ignorant.
What do you think about the Zendaya Barbie?