On Monday, Mattel rolled out a Barbie doll modeled on ballerina Misty Copeland, who broke the color barrier at American Ballet Theatre last summer when she was promoted to the top rank of principal dancer, a first for an African American woman.
So why doesn't the Barbie look like her?
It resembles Copeland in some ways: It's clearly a ballerina, with nicely arched feet in pink toe shoes, hair pulled back, stage makeup, dance costume. The costume is one that's closely identified with Copeland, copied from the flame-red unitard she wears in the ballet "Firebird." Copeland was one of three dancers for whom ABT's choreographer-in-residence, Alexei Ratmansky, created the leading role when he unveiled the ballet in 2012. (Copeland will reprise that part later this month in ABT performances in New York, in a nice bit of timing.) The doll's legs are long and thin, but her calves are Copelandesque: pronounced and muscular. She has a slim waist and full bust, also like Copeland (and like many an off-the-shelf Barbie).
Still, if it wasn't labeled a Misty Copeland doll, and wasn't wearing her costume, I wouldn't recognize it as "in her likeness," as the Barbie press release states. "Copeland was intimately involved in the doll's design," according to the release, "and partnered with the Barbie design team on all the details." The doll is part of the Barbie Sheroes program, honoring "female heroes who inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere." Other Sheroes include "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, Kristin Chenoweth and Zendaya, and those dolls are pretty good doubles for the real women.
But this doll just doesn't look like Copeland, with neither her looks nor the rich color of her skin.
Commenters on the celebrity and fashion blog Jezebel.com also wondered about the doll's appearance:
"But…but…that doll looks mighty, mighty white."
"Am I an [expletive] if I say that I would not have picked that out as a Misty Copeland Barbie? I love the idea, but maybe the resemblance isn't great?"
"Had the same thought. Would have liked actual skin color of Misty Copeland and not the light beige tan the Barbie has going on."
"Like, did they even try to make the doll look not-white?"
A Mattel spokeswoman said the skin color seems faded because of the lighting. "It looks light with the photography," said Kelly Powers. When you're looking at the actual doll, "you can really tell it's [Copeland's] exact skin tone."
But it seems a missed opportunity. The pictures of the doll on the Barbie Collection website look so light-skinned you'd never guess the model is an African American trailblazer. And many admirers will have only those photos to go by. Seeing the actual doll may be difficult. It sold out within minutes of Monday's rollout for pre-order. The doll goes on sale next week on the Barbie website and through retailers nationwide, said Powers, but it's a limited edition, and many hopefuls may end up disappointed.