On Girls, Dolls and Self-Esteem

So very, very sad. As I watched this (thanks to Dawn for the video reefer), I fought back tears to hear these girls describe how something so fundamental as their skin color directly correlates to the value — or lack thereof — they place on themselves as human beings. Now, I’m not oblivious to the ridiculously horrid way advertising, society and the culture within which our children are being raised affect their very sense of self. It’s just that seeing it, in such a black and white form (literally), is a five-minute, startling reminder of the hugeness of it all.

No little girl should ever feel she is less than another simply because she was born in her own special skin. She shouldn’t consider herself the “bad” doll or resort to adding bleach to bathwater in an attempt to attain beauty, status or happiness.

As Maeve’s mother, I’m forever charged with working to ensure she doesn’t learn to think, believe or hurt this way. (Because, by the way, I absolutely believe such thinking is a learned behavior.) Maeve needs to know she is beautiful inside and out, just like Ruby and Ariana and Madison and — well, you get the idea.

But how?

During a time of early imaginative play, many young girls innately connect with a doll. One they bestow their love and attention to, nurturing it, sleeping alongside it, talking and hugging it, feeding and changing it. Relating to it in the only ways they know how. Doesn’t it then make sense that the emotional connection to a doll that actually resembles their own features, skin color and hair type will one day translate positively into how they care for themselves?

No? Well, let’s give them porcelain-white dolls with icy blue eyes and blonde ringlets to pet and love and call pretty — and tell me that doesn’t send the alarming message that only these girls are the kinds worthy of love.

Dawn’s words resonated with me — that taking the seemingly simple matter of a childhood doll so seriously is not an overreaction. If you think so, heed Judy’s advice and read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Then come back here and please explain how today’s stark selection of realistic and ethnic dolls isn’t problematic. I believe that for a little girl like mine, the doll in her arms — and all that she naturally learns from it — can seriously impact how she views herself, the world and her place in it.

Interestingly, I watched this video today just before taking on the tedious task of tackling the 10,000 pieces of mail that arrived while we were in Nags Head. The mail chore — and my mindset — were unexpectedly brightened when I stumbled onto the children’s catalog, Magic Cabin. Completely unfamiliar to me, I was soon engrossed in its colorful, handdrawn pages, relishing in many of the “simpler” toys and activities of my own childhood.

Launched in 1989 solely as a doll company by a stay-at-home mom, its motto is “Childhood’s Purest Treasures.” It notes the words “batteries not included” never appear in its catalog because its items are “kid-powered.” From origami lanterns, tin tea sets (yes, tin!), teepees, wooden cash registers and alphabet wallcards, to flower presses, science and nature kits, crafts and candle-dipping, theater pencils and yo-yo dolls. (I hadn’t thought of my own beloved yo-yo doll until seeing the photo, with its countless circle scraps of fabric forming floppy arms and legs. Ah, the memories!)

And then … I stumbled into the doll section. Specifically, the Magic Cabin Dolls collection.

Now, not all of the company’s doll offerings are as ethnically varied as they could be. But the Magic Cabin Doll can be selected in such myriad shades and combinations as blush skin/blue eyes/blonde hair or mocha skin/brown eyes/brunette hair or brown skin/black eyes/black hair. I would like to see its girl dolls not be limited to long “flowing” hair — only its boy dolls have the shorter “mop of mohair curls.” (Oh, I smell a letter to the company in the making: “You are so close folks, so close.”)

For the really handy sewing types, make your own doll but buy the cotton skin from them in, as they say, “all the colors of humankind” — fair, blush, golden, mocha and brown — as well as doll hair in two textures and nine colors: blonde, golden, sandy, auburn, cinnamon, light brown, brown, brunette and black. 

Progress indeed. Now, if only the mass-market corporate behemoths carried as many options so all children — no matter economics or geography — were presented the world, quite literally, on a shelf.

(Although K-Mart this month is releasing a new collection of ethnic dolls, a search on its website provided little results. Press accounts indicate the move seemingly was motivated by the success of Dora — to this I ask, exactly how many years has this girl been exploring and we’re just now seeing the light? But still. Baby steps, I suppose. K-Mart does carry the American Girl collection, which offers a Just Like You line and the Bitty Baby, which comes in several skin-tone shades. Thing is, most of these dolls cost a not-very-attainable $90. Now, if ethnic dolls were the norm rather than the exception, I’d think shelves in stores everywhere would be stocked with such dolls in various price points so all children could love a little one more like them.)

Choosing to think outside the blonde-hair-blue-eyed box when buying a doll may mean driving further for an adequate selection or conducting time-consuming online searches for that perfect doll. For me, it would be a gorgeous little mocha face, tightly curled brown ringlets and eyes the color of dark olives.

Every little girl should feel worthy because every little girl is worthy. The little girls we now cradle and hug will soon become unsure teenagers with the world and all its options ahead of them. And one day, these girls will become women, making choices, finding their own way and even raising children of their own.

So, forego convenience and encourage diversity in today’s toys.

The esteem of our daughters — and our daughters’ daughters — may depend on it.


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Filed under Adoption, Beauty, Body image, Children, Growing up, Making a difference, Parenting, Products, Racism, Self-image

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