Diversifying Barbie: An Interview with Karen Byrd of Natural Girls United!
By Anna Kilar--As a young girl, Karen remembers playing with her Barbie dolls and wondering why the African-American dolls did not look like her. The features and hair did not reflect her own, affecting her perception of beauty. Karen decided that she wanted to create positive community change and help young girls realize that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, features and hairstyles.
Karen started Natural Girls United!, a company that creates dolls with unique features and hairstyles for ethnic women and girls. Because of Karen’s positive impact on young girls and women, we decided to interview her to learn more about Natural Girls United! and how it’s creating needed change.
Anna Kilar: What sparked the idea for Natural Girls United!?
Karen Byrd: There has been, and continues to be, a lack of ethnic dolls in toy and in department stores worldwide. My goal is to try and provide dolls that little girls can relate to as much as possible.
AK: What have you found most challenging about starting Natural Girls United!?
KB: In the beginning, the hardest part was getting the word out. But people have been so wonderful with showing their support and spreading the word about my business.
AK: What message do you want to send to young girls through Natural Girls United!?
KB: That they are beautiful and important no matter what their skin color, hair texture or culture is.
AK: And why is this message so important?
KB: It’s important for children to have high self-esteem and to know they are valued.
AK: What have you found most rewarding about starting Natural Girls United!?
KB: When I hear back from children, parents or women that have a doll I have worked on that has hair that looks just like theirs or someone they know: that’s awesome.
AK: What has the process of creating Natural Girls United! taught you?
KB: That it’s important to do something that you’re passionate about and something that really matters to the community.
AK: How do you think Natural Girls United! is changing the way society today views beauty?
KB: The world is very diverse. It’s good for people to see images that reflect that. It’s a reminder that being different is beautiful.
AK: On your website, you have links to and talk about the original black doll and white doll 1940s experiment. Do you think society’s views on beauty have changed (or improved) since then? Where are we still lacking?
KB: I think it’s still a work in progress. I know some people who still struggle with their skin color and don’t know just how beautiful they are. It’s a hard thing to see. But I think things are improving over time.