Popular Culture

New Diversity In Dolls Is Changing The World For Little Girls


Perhaps you remember, as a child, looking at a shelf of dolls and toys, finding the one doll you wanted — the Barbie with the long hair, or the doll that could drink and wet. Maybe you remember picking that doll up from the shelf, and being told by a parent or caregiver you couldn’t have it, because it was the ‘wrong’ color. Or, maybe you remember looking around at the dolls in your room and noticing that they all looked alike — blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and none of them looked like you.

Maybe you wondered why you couldn’t find more dolls with skin like yours, hair like yours, or a wheelchair like yours. Maybe you daydreamed that one day you could look just like Barbie and other fashion dolls — so tall and skinny, with perfect makeup and hair past their tiny waists, and feet that only fit correctly in heels.

If so, congratulations — you shared an experience with a lot of other children.

As children, many of us see our dolls, particularly fashion dolls, as pictures of the ideal person. For a child who doesn’t see herself represented in any of her dolls, this can be a blow to the self-esteem.

Fortunately, the current generation of kids doesn’t necessarily have to have that experience. Increasingly, start-ups (and a few well-established companies) are working to create doll diversity.

Let’s look at a few.

1. First on our list is Naturally Perfect. It’s still in Kickstarter stage — you can donate here, and sign on to get one of the first dolls when they’re ready.

Angelica Sweeting says she designed the doll when her daughter expressed distaste for her own body and hair because it didn’t match her doll. She wanted to get rid of the kinks and curls in her hair — because her doll didn’t have them. Sweeting realized that even dark-skinned dolls don’t really represent black girls very well — they tend to still have straight fine hair and Eurocentric features.

She created the Angelica doll with curly hair that’s totally stylable, brown skin, and facial features she says are truer to women and girls of color.

The Angelica Doll has the face of a beautiful brown girl including a full nose, fuller lips, beautiful check bones, and brown eyes!

If it’s not enough that she has created a gorgeous and special doll, Sweeting is going a step further, creating each doll with a career that girls can aspire to. The Angelica doll is an entrepreneur, and future dolls will be journalists, software developers, and more — so much for limiting dolls to fashion models and rock stars.

She also plans to offer dolls in a full spectrum of skin tones and hair textures — not just Generic Black Doll and Generic White Doll.

2. A toymaker in the U.K. has also responded to demands for a wider variety of dolls. Makies will use 3D printing to create dolls that represent children with disabilities, birthmarks, and a wider variety of looks and styles — including an online shop for selecting the doll clothing and accessories that best match your child’s style.

The company already creates customizable dolls that allow children to pick hair, eyes, and other features that match their unique look. Now their Toy Like Me line is adding birthmarks, hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs, and other features to let every child — boy or girl — choose a doll that is representative of the young owner. Soon, they hope to implement a system that will allow a purchaser to customize birthmarks.

3. Of course, Etsy has long been a great source for handmade dolls, often with the bonus benefit of helping a stay-at-home mom. Several Etsy shops offer custom dolls. Hadley’s Handmades is just one example.

Unlike the unique fashion dolls we’ve focused on so far, this product is a soft plush doll, so your child can have a unique doll to cuddle to sleep, too.

The creator of these dolls says:

I will try to honor all requests of skin, hair, and eye color, as well as requests for one outfit. No small parts, and faces are embroidered, so this doll is safe for young children.
These dolls are examples only. Your doll will be one of a kind!

4. Speaking of kids aspiring to look like their dolls, our next featured source of unique and diverse dolls is Tree Change Dolls. While these dolls don’t focus quite as much on diversity in race and ability, they definitely do have a different style than most dolls on the shelf.

Tree Change Dolls are different from most of what you'll find on the shelf.

Photo via: Tree Change Dolls

They’re created by a mother who was worried about kids trying too hard to look like fashion dolls who are often sexy, with lots of makeup, short skirts, and club-ready clothing. She upcycles dolls that are discarded or donated to second-hand shops, repainting them with softer features and less or no makeup, gives them more relaxed hairstyles, and replaces their dance wear with play clothes.

As an added bonus, she also provides instructions for creating your own.

Some parents say that when their kids finally have a doll that resembles them, for the first time they feel happier in their own skin. They no longer feel separate and outcast, but different, unique, and beautiful. Diversity in dolls is one sign that we’re moving toward a more inclusive society, where every child can know she (or he) is beautiful and accepted.

Steph Bazzle
Steph Bazzle is a homeschooling mom who likes to write about justice, equality, and religious issues.

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