I’m a toddler mom, so dolls are part of my everyday reality. My 2-year-old has several dolls, but one is her special “baby” — a soft fabric doll with dark pigtails just like hers. My daughter spends a lot of time dressing and undressing baby, feeding her peas, giving her a bottle, and taking her for rides on her bike or in the shopping cart. I think this type of caregiving play is incredibly important to my child’s development. I know she’s lucky because not only is she encouraged to play with whatever she wants (she has blocks and trucks, too), but if she chooses dolls, she has access to one that looks like her.
That’s not always the case for other children. I’m pleased to report, however, that this is starting to change. I’d like to highlight a few companies who are making an effort to provide kids with dolls the reflect the diversity of the American people:
Natural Girls United: California mom Karen Byrd started her own business customizing dolls to give them natural hairstyles, from afros to dreadlocks. Byrd understands that having a doll that looks like them can positively impact a child’s self-esteem and confidence. She hopes to develop in young children a “positive view of what ethnic beauty is.”
Kay Customz: Custom doll designer Crystal Kay is making sure that all children are represented by dolls, including those with vitiligo, a rare skin condition that affects pigmentation, and albinism. Kay’s gorgeous hand-painted dolls promote inclusivity and a diverse definition of beauty.
Girls &Co: Neha Chauhan Woodward has created the diverse dolls she never had growing up as an Indian-American kid. Woodward recognizes that many children in this country (mine included) are mulitiracial, and set out to fill this gap in the toy industry. Woodward’s dolls aren’t just racially diverse (although half-Latina Cara is pretty awesome) — they’re smart, goal-oriented, and ambitious role models for young children.
MyFamilyBuilders: When I was a little girl, I used my barrettes to make a family and act out their daily activities. However, I made them look like I thought a family should rather than a reflection of my own single-parent, multiracial, multigenerational family structure. A toy like My Family Builders would have been really empowering. The set of 48 magnetic wooden pieces can be put together to make over 2000 combinations of family, a beautiful celebration of family diversity.
American Girl: I received my first American Girl catalog in the mail. I’m not sure I want to go down that road, but I was pleasantly surprised by both the diversity of available dolls (especially the customizable Truly Me collection) and the representation around disability (wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc.). I was most pleased, however, by the release of the first boy doll, Logan. Here’s why:
It’s important for boys to see themselves represented, too, and I think this marketing shift helps break down the stereotype that dolls are just for girls. From building empathy to confidence, playing with dolls is beneficial for all children. Whatever their gender or gender of the doll they choose to play with, kids need to get the message that nurturing and childrearing aren’t gendered activities.
It’s getting better. You know diverse representation is becoming more commonplace when even Barbie gets in the game. The benefits of doll play to development are numerous, including boosting brain power, creativity, and social skills. We should absolutely be doing everything we can to get dolls into the hands of all children, and when those dolls provide kids with mirrors of their own identities, all the better.