Real Talk about Barbie: When experience and narrative don’t match up

Wow. Latoya, in the comments to this post at Jezebel, writes:

I am really starting to hate writing about racial issues for Jezebel.
To all the folks who point out that the white barbies don’t look like you either – we know. We know that Barbie’s measurements are ridiculous, that she puts forth a beauty standard toward white woman that is almost as unattainable as it is for black women and other women of color, we know that molds lend to standardization, we KNOW. …
Feminism is full of scholarship about Barbie’s impact on white women. It’s no fucking picnic for you guys either – we get it.
But it’s frustrating to have people keep deliberately inserting their experiences into a narrative that does not fit. It’s not the same experience. I can read about what it’s like to grow up as a middle class white girl, but I don’t live it, so I don’t know.
I do know what it’s like to grow up as a lower-class black girl whose parents gave her science toys and books to read, and I can only think of owning two Barbie dolls (one black, one Hawaiian) my whole life.
Did Barbie impact me personally? Not really – I wasn’t inclined to play with dolls, and I was conditioned to recognize when I was being sold something. I learned from a very early age that white beauty isn’t the only beauty and there was no reason to feel bad about some white doll thing when there were so many other cool things in the world.
But that was my experience.
My cousin, who had dozens of Barbies and their cars and their dreamhouses thinks Barbies are wonderful toys for her four year old daughter. My cousin jokingly describes herself as looking for a Ken (we are both moving into our late 20s) and keeps her hair long and relaxed.
Unlike my cousin, I never hid under a towel at the pool to keep my skin from turning darker.
And unlike some of my friends, I never felt that sting of being passed over to play with Barbies because there weren’t enough black one’s to go around. I didn’t walk around with a towel on my head swinging it around as if it was long flowing hair, and I didn’t (as described in a seventeen magazine article that was published when I was still in the age range to read it) pump out lotion and leave it on my skin pretending I looked white.
I never felt that pain that one of my friends felt when her classmates teased her about having dark skin and short hair, even though it was relaxed and she used a variety of products to try to make it grow.
And I never felt the kind of pain one of my other friends felt when she went up to her white crush and confessed her feelings, only to have him reply “But…you’re black.” All the parental affirmation in the world was not helping then.
When you have children, you are their primary example. For a while. And then they go to school, they socialize with others, they pick up words, ideas, actions that you never would have dreamed they would. Some of my friends had color struck parents. And some of my friends just got caught up in a glossy, aspirational, media saturated world that paints a very clear picture of who in our society is beautiful and wanted and who is not. Barbie is a part of that. Hollywood is a part of that. TV is a part of that. Advertising is a part of that. And it is relentless and endless.
It might not make sense to some of you who have not felt the sting of feeling entire pieces of your identity excluded from view and representation. Who take for granted that while you may not relate to Blake Lively or Lauren Conrad that you can always turn on the television and see someone of your race and your gender doing all kinds of activities and seen in all sorts of contexts.
If you felt like you could relate heavily to Daria and Jane but you were still thankful for the one time Jodie made a speech about being the only black kid at Lawndale, if you watched The Craft because it was awesome, but you always remember that it was Rochelle who got told that her “little nappy hairs” looked like “pubic hairs” or you just realized that the only “role”for black girls in society was as the silent/funny/pathetic side kick in a white girl’s story then you understand.

Thanks to Lauren for the heads up.

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