Peaches N’ Cream N’ The Fabric Store

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For those of you who grew up in the 80’s like me, you might remember a special Barbie Doll that made her debut wearing a floor length ruffled gown in a gorgeous shade of peach. The dress had a white sparkly bodice with sheer layers of polyester that cascaded into a wave of gathers at her feet, and a long, peach colored boa wound through her arms, the perfect accessory for this doll made in the era of TV’s Dynasty.

I was obsessed with this doll, and I didn’t get obsessed with toys very often. I knew we were poor and, from a young age, I understood it’s implications- asking for things that I knew my parents couldn’t afford seemed not only pointless, but also hurtful. I felt sure that they would give me the world if they could, so why make them feel worse than they already did? Still, this doll’s aesthetic tapped into some deep need I had, a need to exude wealth, class, and importance, to appear to be like all the other girls that I went to school with. Peaches N’ Cream Barbie represented the kind of woman who didn’t worry about money or holding down two part time jobs to make ends meet- otherwise she would not be dressed so extravagantly. She seemed confident and capable, the life of the party, good at holding court with esteemed individuals, which was something I aspired to. Why wouldn’t I be obsessed with her?

Although I never imagined that my wish would come true, Peaches N’ Cream Barbie ended up on my Christmas list, which, since my parents were not together anymore, needed to be duplicated so they could each have a copy. My mother, pragmatic as she was, must have sensed the magnitude of having this doll in my life, because on Christmas morning of that year I tore off the wrapping of a box to find, instead of the sweater or package of underwear I usually got (she, like many Moms without much disposable income, used Christmas as a way to replenish more of my needs than my wants), a beautiful Peaches N’ Cream Barbie Doll! But…she was black. For some reason I hadn’t been expecting that. To be honest I am not even sure I knew that Peaches N’ Cream Barbie CAME in black, because the black dolls didn’t end up in the commercials very often. I was thrilled that my Mom bought her for me, but I also had conflicting feelings stirring up inside that I had no idea what to do with. My Mom, (who is white), had always made it a point to buy me black dolls. I think she was trying to make up for the fact that I went to a predominantly white school, lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I only got to see my Dad (who is black) two weekends out of the month because that’s the way the custody battle went. She didn’t want my Southern white surroundings to damage how I felt about myself, and she understood the importance of me seeing myself in the things I played with. I know that now, and I appreciate it deeply. But at the time, I hated it. It was simply another reminder that I was different from everybody else in my life.

I pet my news doll’s beautiful dress and combed her dark hair that was straight and glossy and not like mine at all and waited for my Dad to pick me up and take me to my grandma’s house to celebrate Christmas with him and my cousins. There, I joyfully opened up toy after toy after toy- not an item of clothing in site- and stared in disbelief as I ripped the paper off my last present and found yet another Peaches N’ Cream Barbie, this time the one with blonde hair. My white Mom had bought me the black Peaches N’ Cream doll and my black Dad had bought me the white one (clearly my parents were not on speaking terms at this point in time). There was a sense of relief that I finally had the “right” doll, the one I had been hoping for all along, but in the coming weeks, as I held the two dolls in my hands, each exactly the same save for their coloring, I was suddenly faced with the real root of my dissatisfaction. I liked the white one because that was the one that all my white friends had, and that made me feel normal. But the doll itself didn’t make me feel normal- she looked nothing like me. It was like playing around with a fantasy that I had no say in creating. And the black doll didn’t look like me either; her skin was darker than mine, and she still had hair like the white doll, just in a different shade. I didn’t see myself in either of the toys, but I felt shame for liking the white doll better and frustration for not understanding why. Of course now I know that this is what happens when you live in a white supremacist society, but back then I just felt alone. I decided to make my dolls be cousins related by marriage for a while, but eventually they started kissing and became secret girlfriends, which is what happens when you also live in a homophobic society, but I digress.

Growing up, leaving Alabama, spending my 20’s in NYC- all of it helped me start unpacking the harmful rhetoric that I learned as a kid and replacing it with values that embraced all my different identities. I am still in the process of forgiving myself for not being prouder of who I was at a young age, which is hard- it’s even difficult to write these words here on my blog. But I do it because, if I have learned one thing since leaving Alabama, it’s that I am not alone at all. There are so many people around the world who have struggled to name their identities, to find a place that feels comfortable, to accept that this place might not be comfortable for others, and to not apologize for it. And if my words can make any of those people feel less conflicted about living their lives proudly and boldly, then it makes talking about it completely worthwhile.

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So here I am decades later, a grown, Barbie-less woman, when I enter The Fabric Store and come across the extraordinary textile you see here. I am immediately drawn to it and I realize that it’s because of the colors- the peach and white combination of my youth holds the same amount of power over me now. And when running my hands over the soft material on the roll, I flip over a corner to find that it’s reversible! Well, maybe it’s not reversible- it’s possible that one of these sides is meant to be the “right” one and the other is meant to be the “wrong” one. But see, I know better than that now. Barbies don’t have “right” skin tones and fabrics don’t have “right” sides. Which is why I used both.

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I thought that the graphic print and stable weight of this fabric would look really cool with a structured bodice, and then I remembered how great the cut-outs on the Bonnell Dress from Dixie DIY were. So I coupled the top from that dress with my circle skirt block, drafted with instructions from Gertie’s first book, Gerties’ Book for Better Sewing. The result is a perfect fit’n flare design that looks absolutely phenomenal with the body of this fabric! I don’t normally combine prints or think outside the box with my fabric choices, but this fabric made it pretty easy. It is so soft and airy and has an almost quilted feel to it because of the way the fabric is made- it looks a little like a double gauze, with two lightweight pieces of fabric tacked together through the lines of graphic print, the colors reversed for each side.

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The bodice from the Bonnell Dress is a very straight-forward make with great instructions- a fully lined bodice with cut outs on each side that connect to a waistband, closed with an invisible zipper in the back.

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Trading the gathered skirt that goes on the original dress with a circle skirt was easy, and I omitted the pockets to save time. I used french seams for both the skirt and bodice to keep the insides tidy since this fabric has a tendency to fray, and when it was all done, the completed dress looked almost reversible! The only thing to give it away is the invisible zipper, which isn’t so invisible on the inside, but I could probably still get away with wearing it inside out if I danced the whole time that I wore it. Which is not outside of the realm of possibility for me.

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I debuted this dress a couple of weeks ago at an event for an organization called Campus Pride, which promotes creating safe spaces on college campuses across North America for LGBTQ students through education, leadership and community. As you can imagine, it was a huge honor for me to accept the Voice and Action award along with the other recipient, Miss Lawrence, and it was a pleasure to meet so many amazing students, mentors and staff at the ceremony. In my speech, which Autostraddle will be publishing later this week, I talked about intersectionality and how my various identities as a queer, biracial woman of color sometimes inform one another; it was a happy accident that I wore this particular dress to the event, which seemed to embody a lot of the things I discussed that night.

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Thanks again to The Fabric Store for the gorgeous textile, to Campus Pride for giving me an opportunity to speak, and to Claire for the lovely photos!

37 replies
  1. Jill B.
    Jill B. says:

    Having language to name as adults the “-isms” we have internalized since our youth doesn’t make the reconciliation much easier. So, thank you for sharing this beautiful and brave testimony. And, thanks for this lovely dress.

    Reply
  2. Trisha Cronin
    Trisha Cronin says:

    I loved reading your story, and the dress is beautiful. Those cutouts are great! I hope you will let us know where we can find your speech once it’s published!

    Reply
  3. Renee
    Renee says:

    I’m with Oona. Just, everything. Everything!! I also remember the commercials for this doll. I had the black one (and Sweetheart Barbie and Crystal Barbie. I bought my mom the Army Barbie when she retired). But, her hair made me mad because it wasn’t like mine and I wanted my hair to be straight and pretty like hers. Plus, everyone else had the blonde one. I just. I just want you to be around if I ever have children so I can talk to you about these issues FOREVER. I also love the dress. I am usually so boring when it comes to mixing and matching fabrics and trims. I love it when it’s done for you like this. Or, I can find a panel or border print that makes it easy. Ok, I need to now read this again and contemplate on how well you expressed so many things I think.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      UGH UGH UGH, you are the best! Thank you for your kind comments, and I want to be around for you and your maybe possible future kids, too! And that’s so funny that you feel like you’re boring when it comes to prints because I feel like all the prints you use are totally original and thoughtful and cool looking- but I have never worked with a border print before, so you are already several steps ahead of me! I cannot WAIT to take you to the fabric store when you come over! hahaha! I say that like we have a visit planned already 😉

      Reply
  4. Joanna
    Joanna says:

    Thank you so much for your writing. I am an Asian woman with white parents and vividly remember the moment I realized I did not look like Barbie (or Jem, or She-rah or any Disney princess). Wonder Woman was the closest I could get and wore her undaroos to death! In college I read Assata Shakur’s autobiography and learned about double consciousness and it was a huge relief to have a name for what I was feeling. It’s also a huge relief to know there are brave souls like you carrying on where Assata left off. Thank you (and thank you to Heather Lou of closet case files for the link to this post). Ps–I also love your dress! It’s badass peach perfection!

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      You are awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your similar experiences with growing up different…well, different than those around you at least. Thanks so much for reading, Joanna 🙂

      Reply
  5. Michele
    Michele says:

    Excellent post, I love your story. That dress is stunning!! I love how you used the two sides of the fabric. Very creative and beautiful. Cheers, Michele

    Reply
  6. Eliza
    Eliza says:

    This dress is just gorgeous–and your message meant so much to me. Thank you for sharing your story, even when it felt risky!

    Reply
  7. melissa
    melissa says:

    Awesome story, awesome dress! It’s so interesting to stop and think about childhood experiences from an adult perspective and how conflicted we can be at such a young age, yet not really understand what it is all about. Such heavy stuff for a child to deal with!

    Reply
  8. Elle
    Elle says:

    A beautiful dress. And especially beautiful because of the meaning it carries. Unpacking childhood lessons is a lifetime project I think. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful words.

    Reply
  9. DWJ
    DWJ says:

    Love the dress but love more how you’ve learned to love yourself. And forgive yourself for being hard on yourself! We have to learn and grow into the people we eventually become.

    Reply
  10. Anushka
    Anushka says:

    A beautiful post, thank you for sharing!

    I remember getting bored of all my barbies being blonde and white so I dyed their hair with pink lipstick and drew on their arms with biro pens… Then feeling really guilty for vandalising them!

    Reply
  11. Janet
    Janet says:

    Peaches ‘n’ Cream was my first Barbie too! Looking back now, I’m ashamed that my seven-year old self didn’t even register the fact that Barbie (in my local toy shop back then, at least) only came in one colour, with one kind of hair. Reading your story, I’m determined to make sure that my son sees the world the way it really is.

    Reply
  12. Erica Bunker
    Erica Bunker says:

    Such a cute dress! Your experience is the complete flip side of mine: biracial, Black mother, absentee White father… Raised in the Black community of Birmingham. So interesting hearing a different perspective.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      I think one of the biggest disappointments about my childhood experience is that it influenced my feelings about Birmingham so negatively- it’s hard not to equate ignorance, bigotry and carelessness with the environment that you have lived those things in, so while I know that lots of people of all ethnicities and social classes adore B’ham, I don’t because it’s just not what my experience was like there. The good thing is that the older I get, the more I am aware of my complex relationship to it and I am able to place more blame on the problematic white folks that I grew up with (my mom excluded) as opposed to the city itself.

      Reply

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