A “Hoochie” Barbie That Offends Or Is Mattel Paying Attention?

I just did a quick peek at the Mattel company website and did not see this potential offering of their latest Barbie, but discussions on social media platforms are already abuzz.  Naturally Moi has an article asking whether this doll (which they’ve labeled as being a new Barbie) is an accurate representation of African-American women.

Meet your newest Ratchet Hip-Hop Black Barbie?!

Knock-off designer bags. Check.

Exposed cleavage. Check.

All they need to do is add a few pieces like pajama bottoms, a head scarf, purple drank and Hood Rat Barbie is complete.

Does this offend you?

But wait, doesn’t this doll Barbie look like a combination of images of blackish women being misrepresented on shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip-Hop and er…Beyonce?

Mattel The manufacturer ALMOST got it right.

They just need to make this doll’s Barbie’s skintone 4 shades lighter (cocoa de leche Barbie?), put some giant earrings on her and it’s a go! I bet this doll will fly off the shelves. Plenty of people will see nothing wrong with this representation. Don’t be so quick to dismiss this as a class issue or difference of opinion.

I don’t see people celebrating the many professional-looking Black Barbie’s available. At the end of the day lip-service gives way to what people financially support and flock to. I’m waiting for a Black Pop Star Barbie that jiggles and bounces like Beyonce an Elmo toy to make it past committee approval.  You know someone has suggested or requested it. They’re just keeping it real stupid.

The group Aqua released their Barbie Girl song more than a decade ago and I think people paid more attention to the breathy vocals, dance production and silly video whose lyrics were surprisingly deep. This song criticizes the sexual nature of the dolls, displays the fetishization of women as objects, the extremes of beauty idolatry and exposes the male predatory aspects of how they engage with modern women. It was a stealth way of getting a serious message across for those paying attention.

I’m a Barbie girl
In a Barbie world
Life in plastic! It’s fantastic.
You can brush my hair
Undress me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation

Make me walk, make me talk
Do whatever you please
I can act like a star
I can beg on my knees

There are women who want to be living, breathing Barbies and get all of the necessary plastic surgery to make themselves over. I’m not going to criticize it because the truth of our human motivation is often ugly. There is a premium spot in society for women who can be put on that narrow beauty pedestal, though it’s fleeting. So, if this idealized and rare manifestation of beauty is as desirable for white women, who are ironically protected by white male patriarchy by being labeled the beauty standard in the first place, how much more will non-white women want to be included?

Yup, this is a “real” woman, model Valeria Lukyonova whose combination of makeup and plastic surgery has her looking eerily just like a doll.

This conversation will not veer off into a diatribe against white racism as the root for the celebration of “European” beauty standards. Nor will this be misdirected at categorically blaming white males for oppressing women. Women are often more misogynistic and competitive with each other individually than males are in trying to subjugate the collective. Add in the racial construct and unexamined color racism amongst blacks against black women and we’ve got the definition of black-on-black misogyny that permeates, which influences black women to further cannibalize themselves.

In other words, black women already have to deal with external obstacles from society at large. They have no safe haven within and amongst other black people because black males (who while benefiting from patriarchy want relief from their self-hate take it out on black women) devalue them. We’ve discussed all the ways black males simultaneously use black women for their resources, recruit other black women to act as Overseer, rip off and repackage their creations [Think Like A Man & Good Hair are two recent examples], offer sex without commitment destroying the family structure necessary for a thriving community, commit increasingly violent acts against them, abandon them and their offspring all the while negating their beauty and uplifting racially ambiguous blackish women as the epitome of “blackness” to get ahead in society while berating them for their very existence. Then they actively try to block any discussion about what they’ve done, misdirect accountability and block the exit doors for those who want out. And they deny it all with claims about making ‘jokes’ and isolated incidences, waving the “black love” flag to shut down conversation.

In order to have a truthful and thorough conversation, we must discuss the 360 degree elements of what influences, who benefits and how people react to circumstances that have not yet been fully acknowledged, let alone redressed. This has far-reaching impact into the choices and opportunities available to black women and their mobility in a country with dwindling resources. And while white males may rule in society, the specific derogatory image battering black women right now is not their sole doing. It’s black males driving it with black women’s approval. Black women who continually seek validation from conquered black males who hate themselves, can’t give black women what they need or offer any protection. If we lived in a culture that offered positive messages of African American beauty and acknowledged women, this wouldn’t be such a problem.

White males already have access to “European” standards and European-looking women. The only ones chasing after that are black males seeking to elevate their self-esteem and standing in society by giving whatever hard-fought gains have been made in the past 45 years back to white males, through white women.

Capturing the black male gaze and seeking the needle in a haystack exceptionalism influences many black women to run towards the plastic surgery, the skin lightening treatments, the yellow hair and the desperate behavior. Unfortunately, the quality of the men they seek is woefully inadequate and they’ll never get the validation they require. And yes, women do need their beauty validated along with every other aspect of themselves to be a complete person.  It’s not unique for any women with the focus and means to beautify herself, thus some of these actions are not necessarily harmful in and of themselves. It’s the unacknowledged underlying hatred for black women who look black that is the issue. Many of these women have attractive features that are admired by men who are not black and would fare better to go where they will be appreciated. Non-black males don’t need to step on the backs of black women to get ahead in society and already dominate in some way or come from more intact communities, so they may have an appreciation for all women. They don’t need to exalt one group of women at the expense of another.

Here’s an old interview with Lil’ Kim from 2000 before her copy-cat Nikki Minaj came on the scene to call black women stupid hoes that typifies the experiences of many little black girls who then go on to further compound the issue.

This steely, rapid-fire delivery helped Lil’ Kim sell more than a million copies of her first solo album, the 1996 “Hardcore”; combined with the graphic lyrics, blond hair, blue contacts, breast implants and that MTV Awards outfit with the single pasty, it’s landed her on the pages of every fashion, gossip and music magazine. But the Lil’ Kim you meet offstage speaks in a soft, tiny, unrecognizable voice–still the voice of Kimberly Jones, the little black girl with doe eyes and kinky hair, the deeply hurt little girl from Brooklyn. Even before her parents divorced, when she was 8, she suffered her father’s disapproval. “It was like I could do nothing right,” she says. “Everything about me was wrong–my hair, my clothes, just me.” After the divorce, she tried to stay with her mother, but money was tight and her father won custody. “I always knew my child would be somebody,” Kim’s mother, Ruby Jones, recalls. “She’d always be the one in her class who looked the most like nobody else. Her father never understood, and that hurt her.”

“I have low self-esteem and I always have,” she says. “Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking. You know, the long-hair type. Really beautiful women that left me thinking, ‘How I can I compete with that?’ Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough.” And the implants? “That surgery was the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life,” says Kim. “But people made such a big deal about it. White women get them every day. It was to make me look the way I wanted to look. It’s my body.”

I don’t even think recording artists are this honest today, but this interview is 13 years old. Everything is so grossly packaged now. Mattel even produced a limited-edition less talented Lil’ Kim rip-off artist Nikki Minaj Barbie doll.  As I recall, Lil’ Kim has mostly been involved with lower-class black males and even went to prison to protect a few. Wouldn’t this be the same type of guys who exalt Bouncy Beyonce (who refers to herself as French Creole and Native American) and her ever brighter skin (or Halle Berry – who is half-white) as the epitome of “black” beauty? Recent photos of the rapper needed to be credited as her because she looks unrecognizable when compared to her previous appearance. Admittedly, I have never been too fond of the hip-hop hijacking of African American culture in this country, but even I’ve noticed how the derivative artists that have gained prominence since are less talented and more cartoonish than ever. The skin is whiter. The hair is multi-colored. The foolishness is so much more in your face. This is another example of fake empowerment being packaged to black women. Act a fool on tv and be rewarded. Don’t be mad at Mattel for holding up a mirror to black people’s idiocy.

I’m just
Like black Barbie
The life of the party
I light up the TV
Arrested for D-WI’s
Sent me to the slammer
Did time without glamour
Time stood still

I’d make believe
I’m a celebrity
All the boys
Wanna get with me
I am too sexy
I’m black barbie
Up all night having fun
I love to party
Just like the white one
I believe in make believe
I believe in making me
Black Barbie
I love to party
Up all night having fun
Just like the white one

**Update  As several people have pointed out, the offensive doll in question isn’t a Barbie. Big whoop. I did a little digging. This is one incarnation of the Adele Makeda line was first created by designer Jason Wu with manufacturer Integrity Toys in 2001.  Michelle Obama has worn several outfits from his clothing collections over the years. The doll’s heritage is African, not African-American.

While there’s a cute little backstory and about a dozen mostly non-offensive dolls produced, this particular doll looks a lot like the aforementioned AA “look” du jour and is offensive to all black women, but especially African-American women. Maybe if they start selling these dolls dressed in traditional African garb and playing out African-specific stereotypes with a bone through her nose, carrying a spear someone will claim it’s “fake controversy over a doll”.

These dolls retail upwards of $125 and more as they’re traded. My post asked the question of how to respond to the doll’s producer, whomever it is, when so many refuse to take the matter seriously. No one is off the hook for disseminating negative imagery of black women, but the buck begins and ends with you. What you value and what you allow. The only controversy is why blacks continue to ignore these trends as they’ve become deeply entrenched seeds of destruction.

24 comments to A “Hoochie” Barbie That Offends Or Is Mattel Paying Attention?

  • MsMellody

    Also wanted to add …this is a little to reminiscent of the Vogue Italia "Haute Mess" photo spread.

    It is like you said Faith -- when the powers that be hold up the mirror to the abnormal issues present in Blackistan -- Blackistan wants to continue with their "perpetual suprise" (Evia's quote ) response.

  • MsMellody

    Faith, this post was very deep for me.

    The very idea that this doll is being produced is just as you say -- the continuing of the drip that will lead to a tidal wave. The idea that racists actively trade in horrid caricatures does not make this or any other Aunt Jemima like item worthwhile.

    That Lil Kim interview excerpt gave me a little more insight into why she has continued to change her face and body. Sad.

  • Carmen

    Just wanted to provide some additional information about the doll that you are debating. This doll has been produced already roughly 8 years ago. It’s an adult collectible fashion doll called Adele from the Fashion Royalty line. She had many hair and skin color variations over the years. The company that manufactured the doll is Integrity Toys and they started their company due to the lack ethnic dolls on the market. I understand the look of this doll does fall into a number of cliches and stereotypes assigned to black women that are hotly debated however this photo that is being circulated and blogged about was taken from a collector’s personal photos. The collector was never contacted about the use of their photo and a controversy was created without any research or context. I’m sure my comments won’t change anyone’s minds but I just wanted to share the information.

  • Truth P.

    I have a problem with this because it triggers something in me when I see the picture.Then to hear it is a collectors item is crazy.After thinking about it a while it made me think about those figurines that white racists buy and trade with each other, like the Aunt Jemima cookie jars.I just don't like.

  • Patricia Kayden

    If you read Evia's latest post, she discusses a young Black woman who wants to commit suicide because of the pain she feels being dark skinned and seeing Black men treat her light skinned counterparts better. Very sad that this "light skin is the bomb" mentality is still so rampant in the Black community. We need to get past this now.

    Poor L'il Kim. After reading that statement, I actually feel sorry for her. Yet, dark skinned, plain women like me get married all the time. As you said, she was aiming for low class Black men. Her focus should have been higher. As many BWE blogs prove and Youtube videos showcase, there are loads of quality men (of various races) who have no problem with dark skinned Black women.

  • This post is so deep. Reading what Lil Kim said was difficult, but I understand where she is coming from- as a black woman it’s completely relatable. I've learned to come to a place of acceptance with myself and am not dependent on one particular group’s validation of my beauty. I recognize however that many women don’t have that luxury.

    I don’t want to judge other women or act like "I'm above it all" because I get it, but there are some things I WILL NOT do in the name of beauty and acceptance (i.e. weaves, relaxers no more, colored contacts, etc.) because I don’t think that those things reaffirm me as who I really am as a black woman. On the other hand though there are many other things that I am willing to do things in the name of beauty. I do take pride in the fact that most of the things on my body are real (lips, breasts, butt) I don't even like to get nail tips (I’ll stick with my regular manicure), but, that may also be society’s beauty programming of me as well.

  • sisterlocgirl

    Wow. Just wow. Just like the slave movie " Ni$$a is just a word " obfuscation tactic, here is yet another person justifying denigration of bw & girls. Yes, presentation DOES matter. This is yet another method of dehumanizing bw & girls which makes it just that much easier to turn a blind eye to any form of abuse, neglect, assault or other violent behavior directed our way. Let us add another log on the already raging fire that makes it all but impossible to view bw & girls as just that…women & girls. Guess what? These kinds of characterizations impact on how people view you & bw in general. Let me give you an example of a minority you don't screw with. Jewish people do not promote or tolerate this kind of misrepresentation because kind of dehumanization makes it easier for people to justify killing you. Read some history on the Holocaust. YEARS before the concentration camps were opened there was a systematic denigration/dehumanization process that took place to get people accustomed to the notion that Jews were " less than " and deserving of first sequestration an then elimination. Sound familiar? Catch a clue, because this is exactly what is happening right now as regards to the presentation of black folks period. As Khadijah warned years ago, money is drying up & quite frankly the majority is getting fed up with the " takers " in society. NOTHING happens in a vacuum, particularly when humans are involved. Why does it make national news when white kids are killed in mass shootings, but not even a cricket can be heard when scores of black children are murdered on a daily basis? If Newtown happened in any inner city not much would have been said. It is all interconnected and leads to the same sad conclusion. Wake up.

  • This barbie doll isn't the real deal. If anyone has seen OOAK (one of a kid) dolls they usually look very much like the real thing. This is an art form. These dolls are custom made for collectors and are not mass produced. I have no idea what the big deal is about or why anyone would police what private doll makers are doing. It's situations like this that go out of hand and make black folks look like idiots. Then we wonder why no one takes us seriously?

  • BWLivingWell

    Another great post Faith! I'm trying to share your writing with as many bw as I can who are receptive to this evolved way of thinking.

    "This is another example of fake empowerment being packaged to black women."

    You've talked about this in so many posts but it has to be repeated for some bw to really get it. We HAVE to be diligent, aware, analytical, calculating, etc, about our image and what kind of media we consuming.

  • roslynholcomb

    It's not a Barbie. It's some collector fashion doll meant for the collector market. They retail at $150+. I think they're supposed to be models.