Random note: doll diversity

Monday December 22, 2008 @ 08:32 PM (UTC)

In my interwebby travels, I found myself at a list of black dolls available from a web store, linked to by a blogger suggesting dolls for Zahara Jolie-Pitt. Yes, I was reading a blog about the care of African-American hair. No, I can’t remember why. It’s the internet, it’s like that.

Anywho, looking at the ranges of dolls reminded me of something from my childhood: my favorite dolls were Asian (and Pacific Islander). My favorite Barbie for many years was a Hawaiian doll named Miko, who was succeeded upon her eventual decapitation (Mom always told me not to take them outside — dropping Barbies on the sidewalk is fatal) by an Asian-American doll named Kira. I was already deeply ambiguous about Barbies as a child, thanks to my feminist upbringing, but I did like them and created epic storylines where they warred around the room in various outfits (the blondes were usually the villains.)

I had forgotten why Miko and Kira were my favorites until I was looking at the above-linked list of black dolls. Several of the dolls are parts of lines that include a blonde doll, an “Asian” doll, and a “Black” doll. Some, like the one I linked above, include a redhead. Some lines have a whole mess of white dolls (in this case, with crazy hair colors) with one “Asian” and one “Black”. Another side note: apparently you can’t have Asian or Black dolls with purple hair when all the white dolls have pink, lavender, et cetera — the Asian doll has just streaks of pink, while the Black doll has black hair and what really look like hair-curlers. I hope many theses have been written on this stuff, because damn.

My point is that toy companies now apparently try to satisfy diversity, when they do at all, by rounding out their lines with one Black doll and one Asian doll. This was even less widespread when I was a little brunette (and my hair was almost black as a child) — mostly there was just one white doll, usually blonde, and if there was another option she was black. I grabbed any doll with light skin and dark hair I could — and often they were Asian dolls (I saw ads for brunette Barbie friend Teresa but never found her in the store.) Heck, I even grabbed redhead Midges, to have a relief from the sea of blonditude.

So I have to wonder what little Latina girls are getting at the toy store. I’ve heard that retail spending by Latinas (teens and up, but still) is the fastest growing in America. So why the hell wouldn’t you make a doll with dark hair? It seems that there’s some realization that Bratz’s diversity as well as their much-vaunted “style” made them popular — Barbie’s attempt to hit back at Bratz had black, Asian-American and brown-haired white dolls, and was adding a Hispanic doll. But it’s still puzzling to me that the blond hegemony is so firmly in place overall. Dark hair is a dominant trait — there’s a lot of us. If rarity were the rationale, all dolls would be redheads. Since that’s not the case, what’s with the lack of brunettes?

I made this a rambling, casual note on purpose because this is one of those topics that yawns before you, demanding endless research, and it isn’t really my field. But seriously, why so few brunettes? And is this Asian/brunette partial equivalency well-established, because now Barbie seems to sell more Teresas and no Kiras?


These dolls, which are supposed to be a non-objectifying, non-anorexifying crunchy-granola brand, have several white models, an Asian-American and Latina model, two black models with different appearances…and no white brunettes. Only Hearts Club.

I’m not complaining, since I’m no longer a little girl, and they’re doing a lot of diversity stuff very well. But it did make me laugh to see once again that European doll immigrants to doll America brought all the hair spectrum from blonde to auburn :p

This is also the reason Belle was so appealing to a lot of girls. Even the non-bookish ones. I have brown hair and blue eyes. Snow White was a bit too stark and old even for me and Esmeralda was after my time. “The same old bread and rolls to sell.” That is all.

Good point. And of course, since you and I were bookish brunettes, we were pretty hooked on her in general, yes? Even though now Disney in general makes me want to weep. Princess this and Princess that. Grumble grumble.

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