Magazine article Essence

Mirror, Mirror

Magazine article Essence

Mirror, Mirror

Article excerpt

As a child, I never wished for a Barbie doll. Though I had the Barbie and Skipper paper cutouts that you could dress in different outfits and make up stories about, I remember being more of a Skipper girl even then.

I also recall having a little black bag-a church bag-and dreaming often of ripping the see-through plastic at the front to get to the White doll posed there like a mannequin in a shop window. It seemed a horrible taunt to a youngster, but I didn't want to risk the wrath of my mother by destroying the bag just to play with the doll. Besides, the appeal of the doll wasn't her skin tone, but the fact that she was something I wasn't allowed.

My favorite doll, the one I had the longest, was the duplicate of one my sister had, because we had everything the same back then. She was Black like us, with our thick hair, and thanks to mom stitching dresses for our "twins" from the scraps of our clothes, they could have been our baby sisters. She was a big doll, not Barbie-size. I liked plaiting her hair almost as much as I hated having my own plaited.

What I understand, in retrospect, is that it's good for little girls to have dolls that reflect them, that tell them that it's okay to be them, especially when so much else in the world hints that it might not be.

See, the girl and her doll don't exist in isolation. The girl still has to sort through the mixed signals in the world around her. Like why, if Black is beautiful, her lips are mocked. She'll become aware as she grows older that her Black skin and other variables-a pepper pot stew of geographic, economic and social class distinctions related to race-sometimes render her undesirable, or worse, unseen. Hanging with this or that lighter-skinned, fair-haired friend, she'll find sometimes that she might as well be invisible. And she didn't need that guy friend that time joking that she "couldn't get much Blacker" to know that even here, on an island where the majority of the population is Black, we might say "Black is beautiful," but we don't always believe it. …

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