Diversifying Barbie’s World

Today, I’m a successful lobbyist, speaker, and author. I’ve often been a “first” — the first woman, Black person, or both to hold a role or reach a milestone. I achieved these things because I was blessed enough to have people who encouraged me to see all the possibilities for my future. Along with those people, I had another important friend in my corner: my Black Barbie.

I loved Barbies (and I still do), so having one who looked like me was downright magical. Playing with her, I imagined the exciting things I could do as a grown-up. She holds a special place in my heart, and I am not alone. The new Netflix documentary “Black Barbie” celebrates the impact of the groundbreaking doll — and the real-life women who brought her into the world.

Earlier this week, I sat down with two women at the ForbesBLK Summit in Atlanta. ForbesBLK is a global community of Black entrepreneurs, professionals, leaders, and creators who are working to drive change. I’m a passionate member of its national advisory council. At the summit, I moderated a session called “Fashion and the Culture,” in which I spoke with Stacey McBride-Irby and Kitty Black Perkins, two very close friends of Barbie who are featured in the documentary.

Stacey is a doll designer and diversity consultant, and Kitty is Mattel’s former chief designer of fashions and doll concepts. They are part of an incredible “relay team” who are the reason we have a beautiful selection of Black Barbies today.

The starter on this relay team was Beulah Mae Mitchell, an early Mattel employee who told Barbie creator Ruth Mitchell that there should be a Black version of the doll. Then came Kitty, who was Mattel’s first Black designer. “I had total autonomy over the doll, and I was told to design it the way I wanted it,” Kitty told me during our session at the ForbesBLK Summit.

What Kitty didn’t want was a doll that was just Barbie with a darker skin tone. “I wanted to give her bold jewelry,” Kitty said. “I wanted her to have a slim silhouette. She has a wider nose. Her lips are a little bit thicker than Barbie.” Kitty’s inspiration was one of Barbie’s few peers as a style icon: Diana Ross.

The final member of this relay team is Stacey, who created the So In Style (S.I.S.) line of fashion dolls, featuring Barbie’s friend Grace and other characters. Like Kitty’s Shani line of dolls at Mattel, the S.I.S. characters show a spectrum of Black beauty with their varying skin tones and hair textures. As an AKA, I’m thrilled to tell you that Stacey also created the Alpha Kappa Alpha Centennial Barbie. That’s right — Barbie is officially my Soror!

Black Barbie dolls changed my world and continue to do so for today’s little girls. In my book, that makes Kitty and Stacey true Firestarters: people who see a need others ignore and start a movement for positive change. And they’re not done yet. Stacey created her own line of dolls and is a diversity consultant. And Kitty is the designer of the 2025 Black Barbie!

You can hear much more from both of them in Netflix’s “Black Barbie,” which is streaming now. I’ll be real with y’all: It made me cry. Talk about a documentary that has it all: Black excellence, mentorship, sisterhood, and fashion. I realized in watching the movie that Kitty and Stacey created a pathway dolls of cultural significance beyond just Barbie. Thank you, Kitty and Stacey, for our discussion at the Forbes BLK Summit and for inspiring countless little Black girls.

 

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