Storytime Sunday: My collection of White Barbies

White Barbie collection, writer Nida Chowdhry

I had like a dozen White Barbies shoved into this small Barbie suitcase closet. I was very proud of my Barbie collection. One birthday, I remember standing in a Costco aisle gazing at the gorgeous sets of new Barbie dresses. One was a yellow Belle costume. My mom bought it for me and I totally loved and cherished it.

I used to love setting up their worlds for hours on end, but I honestly had no idea what they should say or do. It’s like I had Barbie stage fright. I could construct the stage, but gave them no lines. My friends were thankfully great at that. I had two Barbie playing besties (they know who they are). We would hide in each other’s rooms for hours and hours on end putting together the floor plan for their existences.

I wasn’t allowed to have a Ken but one of them was. Honestly he didn’t contribute much to the game. In retrospect I would have had much more fun playing with Ken had I any deeper understanding of gender and social constructs. Ken could have been more than a boyfriend who kind of just sat there. Sorry for limiting you so much Ken.

At Target, the Barbies we’re in a very specific order. From the beginning of the aisle to the end, it went: White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, horses for Barbie, Barbie’s shoes, Barbie’s ride, and then Black Barbie.

I remember holding Black Barbie in my hands for what felt like a million years in my little kid mind. Thinking. I want this Barbie. But… something doesn’t feel right. It’s as though she’s less important. Or like, I might get in trouble for buying her.

I still get that feeling today when I’m toy shopping for kids in my life. Like, is it okay for me to get a non-White-skin-toned doll for a child? Will their parent think it’s because of my subconscious colorism if their child is brown? What about the “fair” toned kids? Is it ok for me to give them a doll that has brown skin? Sometimes I’ll notice that most or all their dolls are indeed White, and I feel trapped in that same toy aisle, perpetually considering race.

I don’t buy dolls anymore, but if I did I’d buy the Ibtihaj Barbie.

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