Monday, July 25, 2016

A beautiful doll like me...

There might be some sort of a correlation between daughters and dolls, or not. But, Manya and mommy both love dolls :D.
In our case, Manya was gifted her first dolls by friends, and it was only on her second birthday did we as parents present her with a doll as she had been asking for a while. Subsequently, on her third birthday, she again wanted a doll, which in her words. "should be as beautiful as me..." (As an aside, I never denied we are not raising a narcissist :P)

My daughter is close to 4 now, and the struggle that I continue to face in my quest to search for a doll as beautiful as her is crazy - yes, that has to be the word. We are about 1.2 billion Indians (I agree with not all same characteristics), but how difficult is it for a toy manufacturer to make a doll with brown skin, black hair and black eyes that is not size zero. We are a nation that has produced Miss Universes and Miss Worlds more times than I can remember (never mind, my personal opinion against most beauty pageants) yet when it comes to our dolls (or maybe even most of our so called beauty models), we whitewash them - pale fair skin, blonde golden hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and pink lips - why are those still our standards of beauty worldwide? It broke my heart when M stated matter of factly the other day when we couldn't spot a single suitable doll across 3 stores, "I think only golden haired dolls are pretty" (why else she couldn't understand weren't there other kinds of dolls), and it did become my mission to find dolls that were pretty and not blonde.

We currently reside in the US - In the last couple of years I am increasingly aware of the growing number of black (and I don't see why black is politically incorrect - African-American seems more factually incorrect!) dolls on the shelves beside their white counterparts - which is awesome! But brown dolls - no luck. Dora comes close but if you are a parent of a preschooler, you know she is not made to really cuddle with. So the other day, I was having a conversation with some mommy friends, and they realized that it was true that even if brown girls were fairly common in the US, brown dolls were not. I have still not taken this omission from the market too much to heart - it is the US, there are so many different people out here and so be it if certain nationalities are not represented really - (not everybody is competing with the emojis, I understand *rolls eyes*) - Also the greater problem might be state representatives rather than doll representative, just saying.

These are Manya's first dolls as presents from friends...

The great Indian vacation was surely going to be our answer - or so I thought. I was very sure that back home in India we would get the dolls like "us" - but if you think finding a brown doll in the US was difficult, it is impossible in India. Infact, when you go to a store and ask for a brown doll, people look at you as if they don't understand what you are talking about. Friends suggested the Trudi brand (Italian), and when I checked their catalogue I was thrilled to see so many kinds of dolls - brunettes and black haired, and different eye colors - well somebody is doing it right (so what if it costs an arm and a leg, and only if you can get your hands on the limited stock). So, I went around looking for their black haired doll - ready to shell out any amount but with little success. I was, however, able to get my hands on Ginger (from Trudi) and she was different - not white, a little speckled even, not a blonde and green instead of blue eyes - one takes what one gets and we bought it for about INR3500 or about USD 60.00. Expensive for a doll, but not bad considering the options we had.
Here's Ginger...

Quite disappointed when we returned after our Indian vacation, I commenced serious research and realized that there were options out there, though not readily available in physical stores. American Girl clearly tops the list. Spendy again. I mean USD100+ is atrocious - you pay a price for egalitarianism, I guess - or is that the price for being "different"? Anyhow, they have really upped their game. (Tip: check out Zulily for deals! :D)  Here's the bitty baby that Manya got on her 3rd birthday and she was absolutely delighted. I really think it looks like her baby version :).
Madame Alexander, long considered the inferior cousin to American Girl, does comes a close second - I see greater choices added every now and then - less expensive too but again not available in physical stores easily.

Manya wants a cuddly soft toy doll this time, and these kinds are much easier to find but again you have to ignore the oneness of the color. Kayla (she is supposed to be a tall 28" brunette) is waiting for M in the store room since mommy grabbed her already at a great deal.

As we aspire to bring up our children to be confident in their own skin (quite literally too); to be respectful towards the diversity that comes with origin, race, culture, religion, country, sect, gender, sexual preferences; to be able to put values of love, help, and general goodness above any such differences, we as parents would really appreciate help that can come from big corporates who manufacture toys for these young clay-like minds. In an ideal world, my daughter should be able to go to a store and see all kinds of dolls (at a varying price range), just as she walks into her preschool class and befriends so many "different" girls!  Diversity is great - ofcourse it fuels curiosity - my daughter has been asking why some girls have golden hair and blue eyes, and if only those can be princesses (Thank you, Disney! - but that would be fodder for another post). But such questions are important - whitewashing the whole toys section just seems unhealthy in a world that's already coping with issues of acceptance of the "other". Don't you think? 

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