As a child, it wasn’t difficult to find representations of myself in the media. In commercials, television shows and magazines, white, blue-eyed people made up the majority of media directed at children.
All my favorite TV shows featured young, white girls and their white friends. It wasn’t hard for me to find role models, to feel included and to have a sense that I was ‘normal.’ Girls just like me were visible everywhere.
This speaks to an immense lack of representation for girls of color.
Strides have been made to improve diversity in the media in recent years. Shows on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon feature an increasing number of characters from different races and backgrounds. Shows such as “Shake It Up” feature young women of color as lead characters, such as recent breakout celebrity Zendaya.
The impact that 19-year-old Zendaya has already had on pop culture is immense. Reaching out to fans via Twitter and Instagram, Zendaya promotes the importance of self-love and a positive self-image. She even habitually shares words of inspiration.
At the 87th Academy Awards in February, Zendaya turned heads donning a white, off-the-shoulder gown and long dreadlocks. The media response was immediate—many praising her for representing a natural black hairstyle that is so rarely touted in high fashion. Giuliana Rancic of E!’s “Fashion Police” felt otherwise, commenting that Zendaya smelled of “patchouli oil and weed.” The ignorant and racially charged nature of Rancic’s comment spawned huge backlash on social media.
What came out of this, however, will hopefully benefit young girls of color everywhere. Mattel announced on Sept. 18 the release of a Zendaya Barbie doll that would include the star’s iconic locks. This will be the first ever Barbie with dreadlocks.
In an interview with Yahoo, Zendaya stated that upon visiting Mattel offices, she was “able to see how they plan to diversify, broadening the horizons and the image of Barbie.”
Representation is an incredibly important part of the fight for racial equality. When children grow up without seeing characters that look like them in their favorite movies, TV shows and toys, it can lead to a sense of otherness and isolation.
The addition of a Barbie doll with hair that is so rarely represented in mainstream pop culture will have an immeasurable impact on young girls everywhere. Even something as small as a Barbie can truly foster feelings of self-worth and confidence in the fragile psyche of children.