Barbie Versus Reality

Wednesday, 09 March 2011 13:58 Written by  Ebony Hall

Barbie is still one of little girls’ favorite toys today. The typical Barbie has long, blond hair, a slim figure (upper body in proportion to the lower body), long, model-like neck and legs to match. As a child, I had plenty of Barbie dolls to choose from, most of them resembled the “typical” Barbie. At that time, the black Barbie was rare and if you owned one, it looked like a dark-skinned original Barbie. The girls who did play with Barbies imitated the dolls in themselves; talking and dressing like her. It is interesting to see that women today, more commonly African American women, are now imitating this iconic doll. The question is: Is it healthy for black culture to attempt to mimic something that most of us cannot relate to?

Maybe over the past year or so, you have seen the common trend of black women portraying themselves as Barbie, even referring to themselves as Barbies. A lot of this started with the popular artist Nicki Minaj. Nicki Minaj’s image in the media is very bold. Her image is total black Barbie, but is this image truly realistic? The original first African American Barbie was made 20 years ago after the first Caucasian Barbie had a very ethnocentric look. She was thin like all Barbies, but had an afro, long bold accessories, and a dress that split all the way up to her thigh. Most African-American women don’t have this picture perfect look.

As a fan of Nicki Minaj, Lyric Mark had a strong viewpoint on this topic. “I feel as American women in general, we like the unreal, we want to be unique and better than the rest. As black women, some of us will never be like those runway models or hot girls in the videos. When Nicki Minaj came out and was calling herself a Barbie, black women felt like she was them in a way, we wanted to be different and unique and have something other women didn’t have, we wanted to be the our vision of the black Barbie,” she says. We can clearly make our own vision of black Barbie, but society does not believe it that way. If you’re too curvy, you’re fat. There is a limit to how dark you can be—if you’re darker, you’ll be airbrushed lighter, and in most cases, long, blond or dirty blond hair is ideal. So are black women selling themselves short by attempting to be Barbie? We can accept the curves and voluptuous body, but the face has to be picture perfect. It shows how we are still insecure about ourselves to the media. Is this image healthy for young black girls coming along?

“It should fade away. At first it was something positive, showing young girls that they can too be just as beautiful and glamorous, but now it’s turned into something that doesn’t represent us anymore,” says Lyric.

Is Nicki Minaj’s marketing plan a misconception to black women? It can be. Or is it that women look at Barbie as a classy doll and they want to imitate that same elegance? There are those who are calling themselves Barbie, who go to the extreme, making their skin tone seem lighter, sporting a blond wig hanging down their back, and over-the-top makeup to illustrate the Barbie illuminated face.

Myself being an extremely tall girl with a caramel complexion, long hair and a petite figure, I was ridiculed for looking like a “white girl.” Family and friends constantly told me to eat more and to cut my hair. Then when I was around Caucasians, I would be called a supermodel or Barbie. I didn’t take it as a compliment at the time because I felt I should be curvier, but it’s interesting now to see black women call themselves Barbie, which is a look that is not truly supported by African American culture. Today, I constantly hear my peers say, “How can black women say they’re Barbie when they are fat with no hair. There’s even a Facebook group that states “Thou shall not call thyself Barbie, when thou look like Precious.”

Nicki Minaj has both sides of her audience attracted because to be a female rapper in the industry you have the vivacious look to keep black listeners listening, but she's been “Americanized,” Lyric says.

“She didn’t always look like that. She's become what they [industry] want her to be. America wants her to look like that [Barbie], because even though we know we are beautiful, we are still in America where beauty to them is something totally opposite. Her being lighter is more comfortable and acceptable; having blonde wigs is acceptable. It’s messed up but reality,” Lyric adds.

So, this infatuation with Barbie could be a trend that will soon pass, but it could also show how African American women need to accept who they are. All women of all races have different body types. For women to strive to be something that is unreachable, we are selling ourselves short. Less than half of women today look like Barbie and that fantasy we had to be like her should just be a childhood dream. As we mature and get older, we shouldn’t still be impersonating something that which was made simply to entertain us.

We all have insecurities, but they become clearer to the world when society sees us feeding into an image, especially Barbie.

The first Barbie commercial debuted in 1959 and had a theme song that stated, “Barbie’s small and so petite, her clothes and figure look so neat….someday I’m going to be exactly like you, ‘till then I know just what I’ll do, Barbie, beautiful Barbie, I’ll make believe that I am you.”

We believe that this Barbie image is how women should be but realistically, no woman looks exactly like Barbie. We should just accept who we are and leave the childhood doll behind and just consider ourselves beautiful, black women.


Photography by GMO Photo Editor Billy Montgomery


Ebony Hall

Ebony Hall

Ebony Hall is a Columbia College student and a writer for GMO. Born in the outskirts of Chicago, she is focused on getting her bachelor’s degree in journalism.

She can be contacted at