The Black Barbie Syndrome

The Barbie doll is more than doll. It is a lifestyle aspiration and I am afraid to announce that Kenya is in the midst of a Barbie storm. Flip through the glamour pages in lifestyle magazines and newspapers and she stares back. There she is again, young, innocent sexiness served as a premium acquisition. Nubile fair skinned females holding my gaze, demanding my attention.

The Barbie syndrome is defined as the aspiration to mimic the physical appearance and glamour lifestyle of the Barbie doll. Though the image is thought to be more visible among adolescent females, it has become a rather disturbing standard of a new brand of urban young women who are perpetually 21.  The defining characteristic of a Barbie girl is unadulterated innocence of youth, body proportions once thought of as anorexic and an angelic face waiting upon a chivalrous knight eager to fulfill her fantasies at competitive market rates.  Every middle-aged man with a little spare cash wants one to drape over his arm as proof of their virility and taste for the fine things in life.

The Barbie girl’s innocent beauty might be magnetic but the innocence is just a facade. Behind the seemingly naive girl worried about college fees and house rent to support her single mother’s desperate condition, is a manipulative creature quite aware of her worth in sterling pounds. She remains acutely conscious of her window of opportunity, somewhere between 16 and 21, to move up ladder into the fantasy doll house with all its lavish trappings paid for by a man who treats her with kind of attention a Chihuahua demands. Since the city is teeming with an overwhelming selection of men with overweight wives at home seeking validation she finds relevance as a status symbol.

The Barbie girl is a creature of entitlement with an exaggerated sense of self importance. They show no guilt complex around money or any of those feisty feminine ideals of independence. Barbie specializes in gold digging and they filter through a man’s minefield of emotions in search of his savior complex. They select high status men based on financial stability because money is her sole objective on the road to happiness.  Off the back of every new man her demands increase and soon anyone who flinches at the suggestion of a shopping trip to Dubai is not worth her time. For a girl barely out of puberty they understand one crucial weakness prevalent in the male ego. Accomplished men love a challenge. Tell a man he cannot to be with you and he breaks his back to prove you wrong.  When they toy with male insecurity reminding him of the rivals lurking about with better offers and the suitor reaches for his cheque book.

But beyond 25, her pool of worthy suitors diminishes rapidly and life on the fast lane starts to take a toll on her looks. If she did have the foresight to secure insurance through an illegitimate child with a married man, she begins to sink into the ugly depression of a jaded mistress, haunted by the possibility of a return to a mundane life. Often behind the Barbie girls’ sense of vanity was a struggling narcissistic parent who brought her up in the image of idealized beauty and taught her that mama should never sleep hungry as long as she was beautiful.

The road to this manner of self delusion starts with a little cute doll.





Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Love the way you give it to us….sweet but sour and that’s reality.Nice !

  2. While Barbie is playing house with Mr. Potato head, she forgets that Mrs. Potato head is building her social capital and hers declining. The most interesting happening lately is that previously Barbie had her pick of Mr. Potato head and Ken thus she was spoilt for choice. Some Mrs. Potato heads are getting their own back by taking Ken up as boy toys. The drama puts a Mexican soap to shame

  3. Kim Bond

    As far as dolls go they are all bad, girl dolls are unrealistically thin (makeup is a whatever as far as I’m concerned) boy dolls unrealistically buff slowly maybe too slowly we’re realizing that boys are being affected as well. WE do need to do better for our kids then what we’re doing. Most men don’t want sickly thin women but most women don’t want men whose muscles come from a needle or bottle and dolls of all sorts need to reflect a healthy norm.

  4. Jed Cortez

    When I was a little girl, I played with my Barbie in her playhouse, sending her and Ken on dates that always ended with a goodnight kiss. I had fond times with my Barbie, and I admired her perfect blonde locks and slim figure. Barbie represented beauty, perfection and the ideal for young girls around the world. At least, as a seven-year-old, that is what she was to me.

  5. that is why Dr. James Dobson is a huge crusader against parents buying their children barbie dolls. if barbie were a real person, she would be walking on all fours.

  6. I applaud your candor and honesty.

    I work with a client that has a black/multi-cultural doll line. It has been successfully launched in America. We introduced it to the African Continent, via South Africa, in February. In following the footprint of color globally, we will be in Brazil and the Caribbean later this year.

    In addition to the physical doll, we are promoting the concept of “Pride and Self Esteem” globally. I would love to meet you and connect you with our vision.

  7. Kimberly Harper

    This is a white woman painted black. Where are her braids or bush afro? Black people are not raising their daughters to expect men to take care of them. Well not here in America. I know without doubt that the only person taking care of me is me. The point here is how black women should kill themselves to look like the blond hair, blue eyed prize at any cost. Ugly doll!

  8. She is absolutely gorgeous.

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