by Khalilah Jones | Photos by Alycia B. Studios
The baby doll and action figure have always held a special place in young girls’ and boy’s, respective hearts. But for years, LOL, OMG, Baby Alive, Barbie, and many other mainstream doll manufacturers have consistently exhibited ableism, preference to Euro-centric sensibilities, heterosexism and whitewashing doll play, across the board. In fact, depending on where you live, in most popular stores, you’ll likely find a huge selection of white dolls with a few variations in ethnicities, body types, abilities or otherwise diverse dolls, scattered in between. While this is drastically different from the doll aisle when I grew up, sometimes it still leaves a lot to be desired if you are seeking a doll that represents your child or even something more representative of what society looks like nowadays. These dolls may have the darker skin to represent melanin, but they rarely have the features resembling our beautiful black youth or rarely show the spectrum of abilities, LGTBQA representation and neurological differences. This lack of representation, besides being hurtful, has longstanding and unintended messaging that is often detrimental to young girls and boys, sending a negative message about their physique, physical appearance, and ultimately, their importance and place in this world.
Do Dolls Affect Self Esteem?
As a child, I remember my daddy perpetually affirming me. Even at this big age of 44, I can say my father still affirms me from over 1000 miles away. I can say, with 100% certainty, that being constantly reminded that I am valued exactly as I am, helped to strengthen my self-esteem, confidence and subsequently my desire to do the same with others. I believe I told my sonshine daily that he is a “…brilliant black boy” for the first few years of his life. I think that embracing who you are, even the not so pretty parts (for me, these feet, honey), allows you to appreciate and value others…flaws and all. It gives others permission to be themselves.
The Clark and Clark doll studies, dated in the late 1940’s, worked to prove the connection between children and their dolls. This study involved four dolls, each of which had different skin colors. The children were asked to choose which doll they most connected with and decide which doll they preferred, accordingly. Many children pointed to the white dolls with little to no hesitation and related them to positive attributes. Some children reported they even felt ashamed to relate in any way, shape or form, to the dolls with darker skin.This study worked to prove many things, one of which being that lack of representation negatively impacted the self-esteem of our black youth. While this study was related to skin tone, one can imagine that neurodiverse children or perhaps with prosthetics, would also be unfavorably impacted by a lack of representation.
Misrepresentation is Everywhere
Because of an overall lack of representation in the doll industry, for years preschools, elementary schools, daycares, and even mainstream media, have been riddled with this misrepresentation as well. Unless you live under the rock of Gibraltar, you know that our youth face obstacles at every turn. Albeit slowly, the world is changing. As parents, educators and caring adults, we want children to know their worth, to glow in the dark and truly bask in their capabilities, to rock their confidence on their sleeves. This is why it has never been more important to supply our youth with dolls created in their image and celebrate the diversity of those images!
Why a Birthday Doll Drive
Here’s a little back story: for the last few years, I have been intentional about doing community service, random acts of kindness or paying it forward for the number of days leading up to whatever age I would be that year; in example, I would volunteer for organizations such as Meals on Wheels, the SPCA, Habitat for Humanity, donating blood, painting nails at assisted living facilities, reading to children, for the 43 consecutive days leading up to my 43rd birthday. However, this year was a little different due to complications related to COVID-19. After contracting COVID-19 and the flu late 2022, I knew I would have to do something else for my birthday this year. I did not want to introduce any illness to anyone I was assisting and also wanted to limit my potential exposure to any other illness as much as possible. By the way, COVID-19 plus flu, 0 out of 10, do not recommend. But I digress. I had 6 thoughts in my mind while planning this doll drive.
- There is more than 1 standard of physical beauty.
- Pretty is not a look, it is a behavior.
- Allowing for diversity in a child’s toys can help foster empathy and compassion in others.
- Representation matters!
- The reading achievement gap locally, leaves a lot to be desired and has to be addressed with intentionality and as frequently as possible.
- Every child deserves a gift for their birthday, regardless if in a shelter, foster care, low income or any other accessibility related factors.
It is with this thought process in mind, I decided to host a doll and book drive for my birthday this year! Initially, I was going to simply collect dolls and books. However, she loves a party with a purpose and opted to host a doll drive birthday party. I invited guests to select a doll and/or book, come to Beyond Entertainment dressed as their doll, enjoy jerk chicken, shrimp, pasta salad and fresh fruit from 434th Street, nosh on a beautiful black, white and very pink 2 tiered Barbie inspired cake from KrissyCakes and music from local favorite, Dj Double U. The guests danced, strutted in a runway-style soul train line, graced the hot pink sequin carpet and even had a photoshoot with a Barbie doll box, photo prop. Fittingly, the doll box was crafted by Kay Sabree, the owner of Dollz Houze Fazhion, INC., who herself, is a product of the foster care system. Kay also donated several dolls to the cause! Lastly, Alycia B. was on site to capture it all and even found her way into the doll box. Get you a photographer who embraces the cause and understands the assignment.
I want to thank every single person who sent dolls, action figures, books, donated funds, helped decorate (because that for sure is not my ministry), partnered in any way and attended the event.
Because of your support, we were able to encourage and provide positive play, compassion and radical self-acceptance, to 300 children touched by domestic violence at the Shelter for Help in Emergency and foster children at Community Attention Foster Families. I appreciate your generosity.
Again, pretty is not a look, it is a behavior! Thank you for being so pretty!