With so few black dolls on toy-store shelves, many black parents had high hopes when toy powerhouse Mattel Inc. released So in Style, its first line of black dolls with wider noses, fuller lips, sharper cheekbones and a variety of skin shades.
Now, despite the company’s efforts to solicit input from a group of high-profile black women, including Cookie Johnson, wife of former basketball star Magic Johnson, some parents are saying the dolls aren’t black enough. They complain that five of the six dolls feature fine-textured, waist-length hair; half of them have blue or green eyes.
Moreover, all have the freakishly skinny body of a Barbie (something that irks some white parents as well).
“I thought it was unfortunate that once again we’re given a doll with hair that is so unlike the vast majority of black women,” says Cheryl Nelson-Grimes, the mother of a 7-year-old girl and a resident of Queens, N.Y. “I feel very strongly that I want my daughter to love herself for who she is and not believe that using a hot comb or straightening her hair is the only way to be beautiful.”
Still, her daughter Noni says that Grace, her doll from the new Mattel line, is her favorite “because she looks like me. She has black hair and has a ponytail.”
The criticism over Mattel’s new black fashion dolls underscores how difficult it is for large
commercial companies to please a widely diverse black community with a single image or two depicting young African-Americans.
“If they had given the dolls short, kinky hair or an Afro, people might have complained that it was too Afro-centric,” says Nicole Coles, a 40-year-old mother from Temecula, Calif. “We’re so hard and picky.”
Mattel nonetheless has taken the comments to heart and plans to expand the line in the fall of 2010 to include a doll with more of an Afro hairstyle.