Representation has always been an issue in the world of Barbie. There have been many complaints of lack of variety in hair color and body types. It seemed as though Barbie may have been taking a step forward in January 2016 with the release of “Curvy Barbie,” but nothing much has been seen from the brand since. But the community who has suffered the most at the hands of Barbie has been the black community. Not only are there fewer black Barbies in circulation than there are white Barbies, but the black community has had to face a whole new level of challenges with representation with the dolls.
One young man is set out to face those challenges head-on. Terrell Slater, owner and creator of Naturally Plastic, is creating his own Barbies for the black community to help alleviate the issue of representation. An interview was conducted with Terrell on August 8th, 2017.
Kaylee: So just as a personal opinion really quick, I was checking out your Facebook posts for the Barbies, and I think what you’re doing is so amazing and wonderful and you’re doing an incredible job at it! When did you first start making the Barbies?
Terrell: I started in early November of 2016. I know that I was going through a lot at the time, and I had always wanted to buy a Barbie. So I thought, “Okay, well I’m just going to buy one just to say that I have one.” But I kept looking at it and looking at it, and she didn’t really look how I wanted her to be. I wanted her to be more of what I see real women are.
Kaylee: So you just changed her?
Terrell: Yeah, I just had to change her to what I thought she would look like in my real world as a far as a real woman, a real black woman.
Kaylee: That’s so awesome. So that’s kind of what inspired you to start doing this more? You wanted a more accurate representation of what real black women looked like in a field like Barbie.
Terrell: Of course.
Kaylee: So with doing this, if there was one big thing you could achieve by making these Barbies, what would it be?
Terrell: The one thing I would want to take away from this is that everyone could see — not even girls and women, just everyone in general — that it’s not always that one image or that one look that has to be for everyone; it can be any look, any different type of look that people enjoy, and not something we just have to like because it’s always the look that is shown.
Kaylee: That makes sense, and that’s a really great message to send out in to the world. And speaking of looks when you sit down and you’re looking at a Barbie where do you draw that inspiration from as to how they’re going to look and how they’re going to be an accurate representation of how black women look in real life?
Terrell: Just from people around me, just from walking around. And work, really, because I work in retail, so I see so many different people who look so different and I think, “Oh, that looks amazing,” or, “It would be cool to have a Barbie that looks like that.”
Kaylee: Have you ever designed a Barbie specifically after one person?
Terrell: Oh, of course. I do it all the time, and I reference all the time.
Kaylee: And so, by doing this, you know you are teaching young women, young girls and even young men as well that it’s okay to be comfortable in the skin that they’re in and at the same time you’re making a statement that it’s not fair they don’t get the representation they deserve. Do you have any words for the females and the males who feel like they’re being under-represented?
Terrell: I would just tell them to be you. I know that sounds so cliché, but being you just makes it so much better because once you’re you, then no one else can be that. That’s what I love about these dolls. Each doll is so unique it’s like there’s never going to be another doll that’s like that one. So just be you and love the skin you’re in, regardless of what color it is.
Kaylee: That’s incredible of you, Terrell, to strive to get that message out there. We know it’s a message people need to hear more often than they do. And the response to your posts and to the pictures of the dolls has been extraordinary, especially considering the fact you only started doing this back in November. If the response rate continues to rise like this, would this be something you would consider turning into a business some day, or will it always remain more of a spare-time activity?
Terrell: At first it really started as a hobby, but it just got so big. Like people around the world I didn’t even know I could reach! At this point I really want it to be big, but I don’t want it to be overwhelming, you know? I want to still enjoy this, and I want to still be happy with it.
Kaylee: Do you have any key moments or favorite moments where you’ve posted a picture of one of the dolls and the response to it has just blown you away?
Terrell: Oh, it’s been so many. The comments make me feel so good. They tell me that they have never seen something like that before, and for a guy to be doing it just blows their mind.
Kaylee: How do you feel breaking that stereotype of “guys can’t play with dolls”?
Terrell: I think it’s amazing. If I was younger thinking about this I would be so scared. But my choice has always been Barbie. Back when I was a boy with where I’m living boys couldn’t have Barbies, and so I always got girl action figures to cope for that. But I think it’s great that I can finally have that. For years and years I wanted a Barbie doll, and now I have so much I don’t know what to do with.
Kaylee: It’s mind-blowing to think that this all started with buying one Barbie doll and not being happy with it so you decided to change it! But with all of those positives, I imagine there has to be some negatives occasionally. Have you ever experienced someone who isn’t happy with what you do?
Terrell: Yes I have. As far as people asking me like “Why are you doing this,” I’ve gotten comments like that. Of course I knew that was going to happen because people look at a doll and think of a child. But dolls are actually one of the top three most collectible things in the world. People have dolls that deal with stress, you know. Dolls try to portray us.
Kaylee: Do you think your work and your dolls portray who you are as a person?
Terrell: You could go either way with that one because some people look at it like dolls just represent us as human beings in general. But I do look at it as my work. I do love my dolls.
Kaylee: Would you ever see yourself going “bigger” in the sense that you wouldn’t be dealing just with Barbie, you’d be dealing with American Girl dolls or Cabbage Patch Kids?
Terrell: I think I could see myself doing that, but Barbie is my first love. I mean, she’s Barbie doll. She’s always going to be number one. But I think all dolls are amazing, just like all people are amazing. And I just wanted to say that even though I’m doing this, people need to know that being different is something to be proud of, not something that you need to hide. I hid it for a long time, and I’m so proud of the person I’ve become because I think if I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. And I think of it, how shameful it can feel living in the South to be even touching a doll, so I just wanted everyone to know that if there’s something you want to do — as long as it’s not hurting any one — then strive in it.
All photo credits go to Terrell Slater.