Mattel announced Tuesday that it is expanding its Barbie family with the launch of a line of black dolls with racially more authentic facial characteristics than the company's black dolls have featured until now.
The dolls of the new line, called So In Style, reflect "more authentic- looking facial features, such as fuller lips, a wider nose, more distinctive cheek bones and curlier hair," according to a statement that the world's biggest toymaker issued from its El Segundo headquarters.
"So In Style was developed and inspired by Barbie designer of 12 years, Stacey McBride-Irby, an African-American mother of two who wanted to create a line of dolls more reflective of her daughter and community," the statement said.
The line features Grace, Kara and Trichelle, "three best friends who are all about fashion, fun and friendship. Each of the dolls features its own unique personality and style and reflects one of three varying skin tones," it said.
Each of the three dolls has a little sister, the idea being to introduce girls to what Mattel calls "mentoring themes."
McBride-Irby said she was inspired to create black fashion dolls that her then-4-year-old daughter could relate two when she watched her play two years ago. She said she wants the new dolls "to not only be an authentic representation of my community and culture, but to also encourage girls to be inspired and dream big."
The SIS doll will cost $19.99 for a big and little sister set and $7.99 for the little sister alone. A hair-styling set that will allow girls to curl, straighten and style their dolls' hair will sell for $24.99.
Dolls have long been an element in reflecting self-esteem issues stemming from the nation's racial divide.
In a 1954 test, psychologist Kenneth Clark showed black children a black doll and a white doll and asked them which they preferred. The majority chose the white dolls. The test was used to help make the case for desegregation in the landmark case known as Brown v. Board of Education.
In Summer 2005, according to an article on the DiversityInc Web site, 17- year-old high school student and filmmaker Kiri Davis sat with 21 black children in New York and found that 16 of them liked the white doll better, indicating that self-esteem among black children had not changed much in 50 years, despite the "Black Is Beautiful" movement of the 1960s.
Mattel said its new So In Style line is intended to "celebrate the diversity of African-American Girls and encourage positive themes."