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YSBnow Real Talk: Why Zendaya’s Barbie Is So Important


YSBnow Real Talk: Why Zendaya’s Barbie Is So Important

Actress & Guest Editor Dominique Fishback Pens a Powerful Essay

When I first saw the Zendaya Barbie doll, my thought was, “WOW, that’s really beautiful!”  And in that moment, beautiful meant something more than just easy on the eyes. “Wow” and “beautiful” were filled with appreciation, surprise, pride, acceptance and progress. It was like someone at Barbie finally accepted that there are differences in what it means to have doll-like beauty. Finally, Barbie could be empowering to all girls. However, I still couldn’t help but feel like the people behind Barbie had the ability to make the dolls look this close to real girls all along and just didn’t, but I guess this is what progress means.

Honestly though I didn’t think the doll would impress me. I’ve seen, collected, and played with black Barbie growing up and as a kid black Barbie never looked like any black women I knew, so was this going to be any different? In the past, the only difference between black Barbie and white Barbie was darker hair, darker skin color, and sometimes, darker eyes. The doll’s nose, lips, and facial structure never resembled my features or those of any black women that I saw daily.

And her hair texture didn’t resemble mine either. Hair has always been an issue for me. I have always wanted “straight hair.” I used to perm my hair, I damaged it with heat, and I’m embarrassed to say, I even put a Wave Nouveau treatment in it to make it curly when straight wasn’t working out. I did all of this so I could look like the most beautiful people, who I never naturally looked like. Since I was 10, I had dreams of being an actress, and I thought that puffy, coily hair was not going to get me there.

I love how self-loving Zendaya is, how she celebrates her ethnicity, and how often she promotes all types of beauty. What I love most is how frequently she changes her hair. Black girls, we change our hairstyles all the time.  She’s not afraid of trying something different. She’s not afraid of exploring new looks and finding out who she is and who she wants to be.  This can be super hard when you are in the public eye, so I love that she is confident enough to say this is a look I like right now and I’m going to try it out. For her to hit the red carpet with dreadlocks was empowering to me, not only because she was rocking something that has never been “traditionally” deemed beautiful, but also because she did it on the red carpet of all red carpets…the Oscars. Way to be yourself, Zendaya!

I hope all girls will not only look at this doll, but also at the moment that inspired it. The moment Zendaya said it’s okay to look different, it’s okay to live the life I want to live and it is okay to accept my heritage. Beauty comes in all complexions, features, sizes, and I promise you—hair.

I have a nine-year-old sister and she used to say that she didn’t like black Barbies; she liked her white ones better.  She never wanted my mom to buy the black ones but I know for a fact, she’d buy the Zendaya doll, and it would be her favorite. For Mattel to choose to give Zendaya this honor, especially with this particular look, sends such a positive message; not just to mixed girls or black girls, but to all girls. It shows us that being different and unique can get you big rewards. Maybe even your own Barbie doll.

Dominique is an actress, writer and spoken word artist from New York City. She most recently starred as Billie in HBO’s Show Me A Hero. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @domfishback.


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