You all are hopefully aware of the the “Doll Test” conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark the 1940s, and if not, you should be (click here to learn more). The results were horrifying and ultimately led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision to end segregation in our schools.
Despite the paramount changes that the study led to, it still seems apparent that dolls continue to affect the wellbeing of our children, which as a mother of multiracial girls, is something I’ve struggled with.
First, a little background information to help put my family’s personal circumstances into perspective. I have two daughters, both from my previous marriage, who are very different in terms of their physical features (well I suppose in personality, too). They both are stunningly gorgeous in their own rights. Their heritage stems from the far off lands of Africa, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, and Poland to name a few.
My older daughter has light skin that tans beautifully in the summer, making all the rest of us pale ladies jealous.
Her face is draped in brown ringlets (3b) with natural golden highlights that turn her hair blonde at the tips. She has dark brown eyes with long, beautiful eyelashes.
My younger daughter has skin about a shade or so darker and during the summer months, she too turns a gorgeous shade of golden brown that lasts until about this time of year. Her eyes are big and brown but significantly lighter than her sister’s, and frankly, are mesmerizing.
Her hair is not quite black, but dark with natural highlights from the sun. It is wrapped in very small-coiled curls that are much different than her sister’s but equally as pretty (for all you curly-haired ladies out there, I’d say she is a 3c).
These two girls are enough to take your breath away. But I digress.
Back to dolls. It is almost impossible to go into a store and find a doll that matches their appearance. All little girls want a doll that looks like them (although we found out in the “Doll Test” that actually may not be the case if the child is ashamed of who they are). But in a period where mamas are working overtime to try to pry apart the misconceptions of the beauty industry and the deceipt caused by racism, most of us are trying hard to remind our girls that they should be proud of their differences and embrace them. Easier said than done when you are shopping at the toy store—even in 2018.
At any particular doll store, there are countless varieties of white baby dolls with eyes and hair in every shade and style. Then comes the Latina dolls. Dark hair, dark eyes, one skin tone option, and usually only one hair texture choice as well. Same usually goes for Asian dolls. Is it not repulsive to you that they still categorize entire groups of people, even if they span across different countries or in some cases, continents, as having one particular look? It is unacceptable. There are distinct differences between people from different parts of the world and they should not be lumped together as one.
Move on to the African American section. With the vast range of beautiful black girls in our country and in the world, you’d be shocked to see the limited options you have available. Typically the skin is dark, the eyes are dark, and, depending on the store, the choices are usually either only the more kinky options or just darker shades of the “Caucasian styles”—but typically never anything in between. While it is a huge step forward that that these brown dolls even exist, it is time for our toy manufacturers to get with the times and to start respecting our daughters by celebrating their diversity.
I want my girls to be proud of each and every one of their heritages, and telling them they have to choose in the store is wrong. Where are the really light skinned black dolls with 3c hair or even 3b like my other daughters? Can a black doll not have straight hair? Can we not move forward and accept the fact that every day, our nation grows more and more diverse? So many companies continue to try to praise themselves on being culturally aware and celebratory of our differences, but I call bull shit.
Why can’t the brown dolls have more than two skin tone options or different eyeshades, or hair that comes in more than one texture? I have purchased probably 10 dolls each for my girls and while they come close in some of the basic features, we are yet to find a match.
So—remembering back to my childhood days, I looked up the American Girl store where you can create your own look-alike doll for a whopping $200 each. While that is an issue in and of itself, further research left me even more disheartened. While you can try to customize skin color—the custom hair options do not cater to black girls at all. This is is as close as I could get.
Really? At 200 dollars per doll, that is the only option you have for short curly hair (and the long version is literally the same texture just a longer length)?
While I appreciate the attempt at allowing folks to customize, there is something seriously wrong here. Where are the other American American or Latina hair options? American Girl is supposed to be the gold standard of dolls here in our country and even they don’t offer more diverse hair options? You can’t just dye the Caucasian hair a darker color and say it will work for all people. (The next time you are looking at angels for the tops of Christmas trees, you may notice the same thing. Rather than make a different version, it is as if the manufacturer simply dyed the blonde hair and made the skin brown. A little effort would be appreciated.)
The good news (and for a much better price I might add), is that there are stores like Target and Walmart that are at least trying. Even so, notice, that although there are different hairstyle options at Target, the African American doll’s hair color is always the same–and so is the color of her eyes. If my daughters wanted a doll there, they’d have to compromise on a skin tone that is either way too light or too dark in comparison to their own, and if they wanted to match hair or eye color and style, they would certainly have to make a decision about what features they would need to give up. It isn’t right to ask children to choose what race they want to represent most.
I hope that more stores continue to offer customization options, but with that comes a great responsibility to be inclusive of everyone. I would hope that our national leaders in doll manufacturing would strive to provide options that can make every child look and feel pretty and like valuable members of society.
As it stands, when a person isn’t represented, they are left feeling invisible and unworthy. There might as well be a disclaimer that says that, if you are a minority and/or multiracial, your chances of getting a doll that looks like you are slim. We can do better!