Black Barbie: Celebrating Identity and Representation

I watched Black Barbie on Netflix twice with great anticipation.

More importantly, I watched it twice because I was thrilled by the concept of a documentary on this topic. The second viewing reaffirmed why I only buy dolls of color for my granddaughters and why that choice is completely okay.

I’m sure I’m revealing my age when I say that I grew up with every Barbie made—yet none of them were Black. Black Barbies weren’t even available. I had every Barbie accessory, even Ken, but still no Barbies that looked like me.

I have five granddaughters, four of whom are biracial. It has been important for me that they see representations—whether in dolls or other images—that look like them, so they learn to love the skin they are in. They are being raised as confident girls. Though life hasn’t always been easy for them, they are bright and resilient.

Watching the documentary highlights the issues of colorism, texturism, featurism, and racism.

Similar to the writer’s story, Laguera Davis and her aunt, I also grew up surrounded by dolls. My mother had a collection of porcelain dolls—none of which, as I recall, were Black. These were not meant to be played with, just admired. There were no black dolls when my mother was a child. I cannot remember the age at which I started to get Black dolls for Christmas as gifts.

I love this documentary because it is so comprehensive and references the psychology of Blackness by highlighting the Kenneth and Mamie Clark study. Kenneth and Mamie Clark were pioneering psychologists who made significant contributions to the understanding of race and its effects on child development. They are best known for their groundbreaking “doll experiments,” in 1940 which examined the psychological effects of segregation on African American children. In these experiments, they presented Black children with a choice between Black and white dolls and found that the children overwhelmingly preferred the white dolls. This preference was interpreted as evidence of internalized racism and a sense of inferiority among Black children, shaped by the societal norms of segregation. Dr. Kenneth referred to this as racial rejection. 

This issue is still prevalent today, albeit in different forms. Consider Lil’ Kim and the extreme cosmetic surgeries she has undergone, altering her appearance so drastically that she is barely recognizable from her original look. This demonstrates the ongoing struggles with identity and self-perception within the Black community. It pains me that Black women go to such extremes to look like something different than we were born to fit into what is considered acceptable European standards. 

Additionally, many Black women have resorted to skin bleaching to appear lighter or white, a practice that reflects deep-seated issues of colorism and internalized racism. This phenomenon, often referred to as “white-washing,” underscores the persistent pressures and societal standards that push individuals to conform to Eurocentric beauty ideals.

There is so much richness in this documentary, executive produced by Shonda Rhimes. Every woman needs to watch it, not only for its historical value but also to help you see yourself as a Black woman with features that truly represent us.

Representation in media and culture is crucial because it shapes our perceptions of beauty and self-worth. For Black women, who have historically been underrepresented or misrepresented, seeing authentic portrayals of ourselves on screen can be empowering. It reaffirms our identities, validates our experiences, and encourages us to love the skin we’re in—features and all.

When Black women see themselves reflected positively in media, it challenges narrow beauty standards and celebrates the diversity of Black beauty. It sends a powerful message that our natural features—our skin tones, hair textures, facial features—are not only acceptable but beautiful and worthy of admiration. This visibility helps combat the harmful effects of colorism and encourages self-acceptance and pride in one’s identity.

In essence, representation matters because it shapes how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. It fosters a sense of belonging and empowerment, showing that our stories are valuable and deserving of being told. Shonda Rhimes’ documentary, by showcasing these truths, not only educates but also inspires Black women to embrace their unique beauty and heritage with confidence and pride.

Hey Sis…would you agree?