WE NEED A NEW BARBIE

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - FILTER - Colum­nist Sarah Koop­man @sarah_koop­man

AT ONE JOB, NO ONE EVEN KNEW MY NAT­U­RAL HAIR WAS CURLY

YOU MUST’VE SEEN the news sto­ries about Angelica Sweet­ing, the African Amer­i­can mom of two lit­tle girls, who, af­ter be­ing un­able to nd dolls that look like her or her chil­dren, de­cided to make her own. Not long be­fore that, Ri­hanna was lauded for voic­ing the char­ac­ter Tip in the an­i­mated lm Home, be­cause Tip is a young black girl – the rst black lead in a 3D an­i­mated lm. And she comes with beau­ti­ful curly hair and cof­fee-coloured skin. These may not seem like re­mark­able feats but when you’ve spent your life look­ing for ver­sions of your­self in toy stores and not nd­ing them, it feels like a vic­tory.

It’s un­for­tu­nate that Barbie gets a hard time for her long blonde hair, but on the few oc­ca­sions I played with mine, it was her hair that fas­ci­nated me. Now I know that it’s made of Saran, a type of plas­tic, but as a young girl, per­fectly sleek and straight Barbie hair was all I wanted. And it just was not go­ing to hap­pen for me – not with­out my mom care­fully blow-dry­ing my hair for an hour, any­way. It took me many years to get com­fort­able with my nat­u­rally curly hair that springs off my head in any di­rec­tion it pleases and has a tem­per­a­ment en­tirely of its own. At one job, no one even knew my nat­u­ral hair was curly, be­cause I would painstak­ingly en­sure it was straight ev­ery day. Is this all Barbie’s fault? Not nec­es­sar­ily, but I think it would have made a dif­fer­ence to not feel like I wasn’t mea­sur­ing up to some stan­dard I had no con­trol over.

Per­haps, if I’d seen a ver­sion of my­self in my toy box, I wouldn’t have spent all that time bat­tling it out with my hairdryer – which I haven’t touched in months now. But time and elec­tric­ity sav­ing aside, there’s no way to re­ally tell. With hind­sight, though, I’m ec­static to see men and women of colour work­ing to cre­ate a pos­i­tive body im­age for girls and women whose nat­u­ral colour, curls and curves are still wait­ing to make it into the main­stream.

The Angelica doll

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