Twitter Just Pointed out the Major Flaw in the Misty Copeland Barbie

May 4th 2016

Lucy Tiven

On Monday, Mattel debuted a Barbie doll modeled after Misty Copeland, the first Black woman promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. While the doll was widely celebrated on social media, not everyone took it as a sign of progress.

Some Twitter users and online commenters on the feminist blog Jezebel, which covered the release, have asserted that the doll's skin tone is significantly lighter than the dancer's, reporter Sarah L. Kaufman observed on the Washington Post.

"Would have liked actual skin color of Misty Copeland and not the light beige tan the Barbie has going on," commenter Rosie Posie wrote.

Ballet's rigid body standards often prevent women of color from achieving success.

As some commenters pointed out, Copeland has been celebrated for defying the stereotype that successful ballerinas must be tall, gaunt, white women — which makes the doll's white-washing troubling.

"Skin the color of a peeled apple. . . . ." user meatball77 said. "Balanchine did some great things for ballet but has also done a world of hurt to ballerinas themselves." Balanchine, a seminal choreographer often hailed as the father of American Ballet, massively influenced the physical standards later popularized as 'the ideal prima ballerina.'

Misty Copeland does not embody these physical norms, as Slate wrote in 2014:

"There is a lot that makes Copeland unusual. Most dancers stand at least 5 feet 4 inches tall. Copeland is 5 feet 2 inches tall.* She has a woman’s curves in an artistic tradition that glorifies prepubescent straight lines. She began dancing when she was 13, which is about 10 years later than many girls who end up as professional ballerinas get started. She’s black."

Her success sends an inspiring message to young Black dancers (and non-dancers) who often feel that the beauty standards in or outside of ballet are not attainable to them.

The Barbie doll was created as part of the Barbie Sheroes program, which celebrates “female heroes who inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere," according to the Washington Post. As Kaufman pointed out, on first glance, the doll doesn't look a lot like Copeland, and appears to have deliberately white-washed her skin tone — making her appear very similar the body-image boundary she it is allegedly being celebrated her for breaking through.

Still, Copeland has praised the doll.

While the doll's skin tone might appear darker than Copeland's, it does share some of her physical features.

"We looked at her nose and made sure it was a little bit wider than Barbie's actually is, and that her lips were fuller and that she had a little almond shape to her eyes," the dancer told Mashable. "It's just so exciting for this generation of kids to be able to see a Barbie that has muscles and brown skin and a bust and thighs, and for her to be a ballerina."

This also isn't the first time Copeland has voiced the importance of having positive role models as a young Black women. "I think it couldn’t be more positive for a young black girl to see that it’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to not have to transform and look like what you may see on the cover of a lot of magazines. That you are beautiful, that it’s possible to succeed in any field that you want to, looking the way that you do," Copeland said, when Time interviewed her and President Barack Obama.

She also shared her appreciation of #BlackGirlMagic, a movement and social media hashtag that affirms Black women for their beauty and excellence.

The company responded to the backlash.

Mattel spokeswoman Kelly Powers told the Washington Post that the doll's skin tone was actually darker than in appeared in photographs, and that the lighting was misleading.

“It looks light with the photography,” Powers said, and maintained that in person, “you can really tell it’s [Copeland’s] exact skin tone.”

[h/t the Washington Post]