Intro from Kay
Being an only child meant I spent a lot of time in the world of dolls and I had many over the years. Barbie was never on my radar, she was a little too ‘cheerleader-esque’ for a little Brit like me, and Sindy (the British equivalent) seemed frumpy. My favourite doll as a girl was Daisy, a real ‘doll du jour’. Designed by Mary Quant, Daisy was a gorgeous blonde whose hair (which if you brushed out went into a strange sideways Afro hybrid) formed one very large curl all the way around her head. I liked Daisy because she had a fabulous wardrobe and seemed like a cool and independent young lady, neither innapropriately sex-toy looking like Barbie, or a housewife like Sindy..
Barbie – the world’s most popular doll and female icon for so many little girls – was born in March 1959 and came in both blonde and brunette hair and was the first doll to have an adult, not infant’s, appearance. Ruth Handler, the woman behind the creation of Barbie (named after her daughter, Barbara) was actually the wife of one of the co-founders of the Mattel toy company which produced the doll. Since then over one billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries and Mattel claim three are sold every second.
Mattel has created a range of friends for Barbie over the years including redhead Midge, Hispanic Teresa, African-American Christie (first introduced in 1967/68) and Christie’s boyfriend, Steven. In later years, Barbie made her first Asian friend, Kira Wang, in 1990 and then Nikki, another African American friend in 1996. Barbie has also had a host of jobs over the decades (around 130) including space explorer, presidential candidate (serving as the ‘B Party’ candidate!) and computer engineer.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that Mattel pushed out a targeted advertising campaign specifically for the hispanic and african-american dolls in a bid to allow ‘ethnic Barbie lovers to dream in their own image’.
Over in Africa, the dolls outselling Barbie in Nigeria however, is Queens of Africa,
a trio of girls modelled on three of the country’s tribes. Founder Taofick Okoya, created the dolls to help create a positive influence on his daughter’s childhood, after she once wished to be white.
“It made me aware that I needed to make her proud and happy being a black African girl, and not limit it to her alone as this was a common trend among the younger generation. The Queens of Africa became a platform to achieve this.”
In the 1940s African-American psychologists Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie conducted a study on children’s attitudes about race through dolls. Black children in the study were given white and black dolls and then asked which dolls were “good,” “bad,” “nice,” and “mean.” The majority – 63% – said they’d rather play with the white doll and associated positive qualities with the white dolls and negative qualities with the black ones.
“To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone”.
60 years later a professor Robin Bernstein, a professor of African and African American studies and women, gender, and sexuality, revisited the Clark study. He thought the study’s results were not necessarily a reflection of self-hatred among black children but reflected a negative portrayal of black culture in American media. In theatre and TV they were subjected to ‘servitude or comic violence’ which sent messages to children that they should play with black and white dolls differently. He also noted white children in the 19th and 20th century were often violent and abusive to their black dolls but were punished by parents if they did the same to their white dolls. He thought the notion that one doll should be loved and cherished and the other physically harassed was a reflection of culture and popular media at the time.
“Malaville is a place of stunning beauty, where everyone is welcome to play”
So delighted to stumble upon Malaville Dolls on Instagram recently which inspired this post.
“I went shopping for toys to give away to some children back in my hometown in St Lucia but had a very tough time finding black/brown ones. So I ended up buying only white barbies, this bothered me a tiny bit as I wanted to give the children dolls that were more relevant for them. As far as I can remember it didn’t affect me negatively having white dolls growing up but I made note we are living in a different time now – children nowadays are exposed more to race so the idea of making my own was born. However my modelling career got busy again and I put the idea aside.