African American Barbie Doll

Barbara Millicent Roberts (“Barbie”) made her first official appearance on March 9, 1959, right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

The tall, shapely American fashion doll was modeled after Germany’s Bild Lilli doll, who made her first appearance in 1955.  Blonde, blue-eyed, and looking frighteningly like the grown-up version of the iconic girl-child of the perfect Aryan race of Adolf Hitler’s perverted dreams, Lilli was billed as a working girl who was not afraid to do whatever it takes to get what she wanted.  Barbie dolls followed suit in America just a few years later.

Is there any wonder that Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer, soon started churning out a series of African American Barbie dolls?

In 1966, the Francie doll was born.  Advertised as “Barbie’s MODern cousin,” the doll was pretty much a shorter version of Barbie but with a vibrantly colored, splashy wardrobe.  “Colored Francie” hit toy store shelves in 1967.  Whether or not this new, dark-haired, dark-complected cousin Francie was truly intended to be Barbie’s black cousin, Francie was not a hit in the African American community.

This first African American Barbie doll spin-off was made from the same mold, literally, as the original Barbie.  Her skin was darker but her features were strictly Caucasian.  After a series of transformations, the Francie doll was discontinued in 1976.

Barbie’s first black “friend” is Christie, who made her debut in 1968.  Christie’s boyfriend, Steven, made the scene as a friend of Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, in 1988.  Black Barbie and Hispanic Barbie joined the product line in 1980.

Since Christie’s first appearance, there has been a long line of African American Barbie dolls that are better racial representations.  Each doll is beautiful, of course, but skin tones vary from light to dark, hairstyles go from short and straight to long, flowing dreadlocks.

Facial features for these dolls are different, too.  The sizes and shapes of these dolls’ eyes, lips, foreheads, cheekbones, and chins are just as different as they are for real African American girls.

Almost from the beginning, Barbie dolls have been the subject of controversy and parody.  After the doomed dark-skinned but Caucasian-featured Francie, perhaps the most problematic African American Barbie doll was “Oreo Fun Barbie.”

Mattel and Nabisco, maker of Oreo Cookies, joined forces to promote both products in one ad campaign.  They produced a dark-skinned doll they dubbed Oreo Fun Barbie, someone's little girls could share “America’s favorite cookie” with after class.

This truly outrageous error in judgment led to the almost-immediate recall of all Oreo Fun Barbies, making it the only Barbie recalled instead of merely discontinued.  This notorious distinction has made Oreo Fun Barbie one of the most sought-after items in the entire line of Barbie doll products.

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